Cal Poly has become sort of a home away from home for the San Jose Earthquakes, who played their fourth exhibition game in the past five years at Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Friday night.
So while the Colorado Rapids brought a new formation, several new players and a new coach, it was a familiar face that made the difference for the Earthquakes.
San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski, who led the MLS in goals the past two seasons, scored the game-winning goal on a laser beam to the near post from 20 yards out in the 67th minute of the Earthquakes’ 2-1 win.
In front of an announced crowd of 2,422, with a light rain falling for much of the match, the two teams combined for 17 shots as they tuned up for the upcoming season.
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“We have such amazing soccer fans on the Central Coast, I keep saying that, but it’s true. We’ve got great youth leagues, we’ve got adult leagues, we’ve got futsal leagues. Just a vibrant soccer community,” Cal Poly men’s soccer head coach Paul Holocher said. “To bring a game like this here and see the highest level in the U.S., I’m really happy to have a small part in helping that.”
It was the second straight year that Wondolowski has scored the game-winner in the exhibition game held here, and also the second straight year that the two teams played each other in a match that serves as a fundraiser for the soccer program and Cal Poly athletics.
“Obviously they’re only three hours away, they’ve really enjoyed their time down here each year, and Colorado came last year, they came again this year, the guys on the team love it,” Holocher said. “They love San Luis Obispo.”
A couple of the new players provided the early punch for the Rapids, as recently signed Colombians Jefferson Angulo and Jaime Castrillon combined to give Colorado a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute.
Angulo got the ball wide on the left side and dropped in a high-arcing pass to Castrillon at the top of the box, who took advantage when his defender slipped to fire a shot to the near post and beat San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch.
“It was a play on my left and they gave me some space and I saw that I was alone. I knocked it down and it fell perfectly for the shot,” Castrillon said through a translator.
The Earthquakes equalized in the 31st minute, when Khari Stephenson powered into the box and headed a corner kick from newly acquired Marvin Chavez into the net.
For two players, Friday night’s game was also something of a homecoming.
Former UC Davis standout Quincy Amarikwa, playing in his second MLS exhibition at Cal Poly (he scored the game-winner for the Earthquakes in a 3-2 win over Seattle in 2009), came on in the second half and created several promising opportunities in 30 minutes of play.
And former UC Santa Barbara star Sam Garza, who was taken No. 6 overall at the MLS SuperDraft last month by the Earthquakes and had family and friends in the area come to see him play, also came on in the second half and helped to set up the final goal.
“I played the ball to Rafa (Baca), and Rafa played it to Wondo, and then Wondo obviously is a tremendous finisher, world class, so he slotted it near post. Great finish by him and that’s expected,” he said.
Colorado, using a 4-3-3 formation this year under first-year coach Oscar Pareja, enjoyed the run of play early in each half.
“For moments in the first half, we connected a lot of passes in the 4-3-3,” he said. “There’s still moments when we lack coordination, but I think in the season it will give us flexibility because in the second half we inverted the triangle in the middle and it worked.”
The Rapids had several chances to take the lead in the second half before Wondolowski scored against the run of play.
“We’re still figuring it out. You could see there’s a couple of times where there’s a little uncertainty, but at times you can see what we can potentially do with it. I think everyone’s on board,” Amarikwa said. “I think we’ll figure it out and be pretty dangerous come the start of the season.”