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San Jose Earthquakes bounce back against LAFC: "Derby games are always different"

May 5, 2024, by Justin Ruderman | Courtesy of

San Jose’s biggest crowd of the season was rewarded for their dedication as the Earthquakes put together their best performance of the year in a 3-1 victory over in-state rival LAFC in front of 43,774 fans at Levi’s Stadium.

“It was a really great experience to play a huge game like this in a huge stadium. The environment was amazing. People came here to have a party and I think the team showed that these games live their own lives,” outlined winning-goalscorer Amahl Pellegrino. “We haven’t been so good this season, but derby games are always different. It was a great response and it was cool to play this game. It was an important three points.”

Just five minutes into the match, Rodrigues quickly capitalized on the emotion of the day to head home San Jose’s opener from a corner kick. Despite efforts from LAFC to get themselves back into the match, the Earthquakes carried the 1-0 lead into halftime before quickly expanding their cushion in the second half.

Pelligrino latched onto a gorgeous, curled through ball from Cristian Espinoza to slot home the would-be winner (55’) and another Espinoza cross from a corner was turned home for an own goal by Denis Bouanga(59’). Again, LAFC attempted to fight back with a goal from Cristian Olivera (69’), but could not overcome Espinoza’s constant chance creation.

“I know Cristian [Espinoza] maybe has one of the best right feet in the league. We always talk about that,” Pelligrino praised his team’s Argentinian playmaker. “I like to go behind the defenders to attack that space and when I saw he got the ball I just hoped he would swing it and he did it. It was a fantastic ball and he made my job easy.”

With the assist, Espinoza tied Richard Mulrooney and Shea Salinas (14) for the most game-winning assists in club history.

“Football – sorry soccer – is an easy thing when you have confidence. To get a huge win like this with a good performance makes things easier because you start to believe in what you’re doing in training,” Pelligrino said. “We just have to continue.”

López debuts

The other historic moment on the night for the Earthquakes was the debut of club-record signing Hernán López. The 23-year-old arrives from Argentine top-flight side Godoy Cruz on a contract through the 2026 MLS season with options for 2027-28.

Within 48 hours of kickoff, San Jose was still awaiting clearance for their newest Designated Player to be available for the match and head coach Luchi Gonzalez had his team prepared for any scenario.

“The group with or without him was going to be ready to compete,” Gonzalez assured. “I thought they showed that first half, but thankfully he was cleared and thankfully he got to come into the game, get a head start, and help this team compete.”

Of course, Gonzalez was always hopeful of his new DP’s inclusion.

“There was always the idea that Hernán could have a role in this game, especially since he felt ready and he was cleared,” explained Gonzalez of his halftime substitution. “We thought it was an opportune moment to get Hernán [López] in the game.”

From the player’s perspective, López had to be ready despite some understandable nerves.

“I didn’t know I was going to play, but once I found out I was ready. I was a little nervous, I’m not going to lie, but I took it in stride,” López shared. “I was prepared for it and excited to show what I’ve got.”

Having just been with the team for a few days, only so much could be expected of the 23-year-old Argentinian in his first appearance, but due to his mid-season fitness levels, the impact was immediately clear. In just 45 minutes, López created three chances to highlight a developing relationship with his fellow countryman in San Jose’s attacking third.

“When I first heard about the Earthquakes interest in me I made sure to grab Cristian [Espinoza]’s phone number first from mutual friends to ask him about the club,” López recalled.

Together the two led a strong second-half performance to cap off a crucial win in front of a massive home crowd, fostering some much-needed positive vibes for the time being. Saturday’s win could be a big step to turning things around in San Jose.

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