SANTA CLARA -- Earthquakes target man Alan Gordon says it's part of the team's DNA to come back.
Mexican power Toluca FC probably won't dispute that claim after Gordon scored in the 95th minute to force a 1-1 draw Tuesday night at Buck Shaw Stadium in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
The Earthquakes will travel to Toluca at high altitude on March 19 for the return leg of the quarterfinal home-and-home series. San Jose opens its MLS season against Real Salt Lake on Saturday at Buck Shaw Stadium.
The draw gives San Jose at least a fighting chance in the series finale.
"It was huge," Gordon said. "Against these Mexican teams, they're really good at home. It's tough to go into Mexico and get results, so for us to go in there down 1-0 would have been a huge mountain. Now we're in a one goal series."
Gordon, who missed most of the preseason after offseason foot surgery, scored in typical style. After entering the game in the 73rd minute, he raced in untouched and converted a header off a Shea Salinas free kick, in front of a sellout crowd of 10.525.
Raul Nava gave Toluca a 1-0 lead with a brilliant shot in the 67th minute off a muffed clearance by Quakes defender Jason Hernandez.
Gordon said the comeback was good for the team's confidence.
"We didn't put our heads down," Gordon said. "We got together at the middle of the field like we usually do, and we looked at each other in the eye and we made a conscious effort to all see it through all the way to the end."
The late-game drama came during an otherwise frustrating night for San Jose, which came close to scoring at least a half-dozen other times.
Quakes coach Mark Watson thought his team played well in its first game of the season against the 10-time Mexican league champions.
Through a translator, Toluca coach Jose Saturnino Cardozo was dismissive of the Quakes physical style, only crediting his team with playing the game properly.
"It doesn't matter what he says," Cordell Cato said in response. "People are gonna talk. Sometimes they don't like the style of a team's play. It doesn't have to be the Quakes. It can be the (Los Angeles) Galaxy. It can be anybody. They're gonna talk because they dislike it, but we play and we get results, and that's all that matters."
Hernandez started in place of U.S. national team center back Clarence Goodson, serving a one-game suspension for yellow cards in the CONCACAF group stage.
The Quakes nearly scored three times during a spellbinding sequence in the 79th minute. Salinas sent a cross into the middle, and Steven Lenhart headed the ball off the crossbar. JJ Koval, a rookie out of Stanford, hit a follow shot that banked off a defender. Then Gordon appeared to shoot off Koval, who was on the ground.
After a bit of a slow start, the Quakes brought the action to Toluca in the second half.
In the 54th minute, Cato raced up the right wing and curved a cross to Chris Wondolowski, whose one-time attempt from 10 yards out was turned away by goalie Alfredo Talavera. Wondolowski was foiled again in the 60th minute from point-blank range.
In the first half, San Jose was denied in the 34th minute when an open header by Lenhart off a Salinas corner kick was cleared off the line by defender Edgar Duenas.
Gordon's teammates knew what to expect from Gordon in the end.
"Alan's a fantastic player," winger Cato said. "Our top four guys are good in the box on crosses, and it just goes to show. He has missed a lot, but one chance and he has a goal."