For the third game in a row at Avaya Stadium, the San Jose Earthquakes failed to hold an early lead, dropping points in a 1-1 draw against the Montreal Impact Wednesday night, despite the visitors playing a man down for much of the second half.
Chris Wondolowski opened scoring with a clinical finish in the 35th minute, and an Ambroise Oyongo red card looked to pave the way for a straightforward victory that would have lifted San Jose in a tie for the fourth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
A David Bingham gaffe in the second half spoiled that hope, however, when the young goalkeeper was caught out of position and unable to deal with a near post finish from Impact midfielder Kyle Bekker.
With nearly half of Montreal’s starting lineup unavailable, the draw is a huge missed opportunity for San Jose, who continue to sit in seventh place in the Western Conference, a point out of the final playoff spot.
Playing their third game in 11 days, and with a crucial home clash against New England coming up on Saturday, the Impact elected to fly key players Didier Drogba, Ignacio Piatti and Marco Donadel home to rest up for the Eastern Conference clash.
The Impact, who entered the match clinging to the sixth and final playoff spot in the East, were also without stalwart center-back Laurent Ciman due to a red card suspension.
After providing the go-ahead assist on his first touch against Seattle last weekend, Matias Perez Garcia won his spot back in the starting XI, playing as a right-sided midfielder for the first time under coach Dominic Kinnear, who elected to keep Marc Pelosi and Anibal Godoy paired in central midfield.
The first half-hour looked similar to the Quakes lackluster starts in their last two matches at Avaya Stadium, with Montreal sitting deep and looking only to throw men forward on the counterattack.
Wondolowski brought life to the contest 10 minutes before the break, scoring on the type of opportunistic goal that he’s become known for throughout his historic career.
The Impact sloppily gave away possession in their own half, when goalkeeper Eric Kronberg made things tough on teammate Eric Alexander by giving the ball in a precarious position with his back to goal. Shea Salinas pressed Alexander and won back possession, leaving it for Quincy Amarikwa who took it to the edge of the penalty area before a Hassoun Camara challenge knocked it loose. Then Wondolowski pounced, perfectly placing a first timed shot into the corner of the net for his 14 goal of the season.
Wondo nearly made it two goals in two minutes, thwarted only by a superb diving Kronberg save in the 37th minute. Montreal’s best chance of the half came on a 3-on-2 breakaway in the 38th minute, but Alexander spoiled the chance by taking a speculative shot from outside the box that was saved by David Bingham.
The Impact looked like a team playing shorthanded for the first 45, and would find themselves even more depleted just four minutes after the restart, when Oyongo was given a straight red card after a dangerous and clumsy two-footed lunging challenge on Perez Garcia.
Once again however, the Earthquakes would fail to hold onto a lead at Avaya. Midfielder Kyle Bekker stole the point for Montreal in the 64th minute, catching Bingham out of position and scoring inside his near post from about 20 yards out. It was a cheap goal the young keeper will want to forget, coming at a time when the shorthanded Impact appeared to have little competency attacking San Jose.
Shea Salinas did his best to salvage the draw, creating a near miss for Wondo on a perfect cross field ball in the 69th minute, and just missing on a shot of his own in the 71st. It would ultimately prove futile for San Jose, who can hardly afford to drop points at this stage if squeaking into the tight Western Conference playoff picture is to remain a possibility.
The Earthquakes are on the road for the last time in 2015 this weekend, when they face New York City FC for the first time ever next Sunday afternoon.
Follow @SFBay and @JakeMMontero on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the San Jose Earthquakes.