By Ivan Makarov
SANTA CLARA, CA — A couple of months ago the odds of San Jose Earthquakes making MLS playoffs didn’t look good, as the team kept losing points while unable to produce offense. They even parted ways with their head coach Frank Yallop who led the team to 2012 Supporters Shield award only a year ago. But after tightening its defense with the signing of Clarence Goodson, and focusing on offense in training, the things finally started to come together for the Quakes and its interim head coach Mike Watson.
That improvement calumniated in a key victory against the divisional opponent Colorado Rapids on Wednesday night at Buck Shaw Stadium. The race for the five playoffs spots in the West is staying very close this year between seven teams, and to stay alive Quakes needed a victory against Colorado, one of the two teams right in front of them. With the big goal by its captain Chris Wondowski, the Quakes earned 1-0 win and kept themselves alive in this close race to the finish.
“That was probably a must-win game for us tonight,” said Mike Watson after the game. “We needed the three points. I don’t think one would have been enough. I don’t think you go into a game with that as your main thought, but you know the result you need to come away with. I thought our guys were excellent tonight. We were on top of the game from the start. We were sharp, moved the ball well and had a bunch of great chances.”
The key moment of the game happened on the 69th minute from two set pieces inside the Rapids territory. It all started with a cross from a free kick taken by Rafael Baka from 40 or so yards out which found Wondolowski’s head inside the penalty box. Wondo put a shot on target, but Colorado’s goalkeeper Clinton Irwin made a great save, putting the ball above the goal, resulting in the Quakes’ corner kick.
Shea Salinas took that corner and sent the ball back to the Quakes top goalscorer Wondolowski. He once again beat his coverage, and put another header on goal, which went in this time. This was Wondo’s 10th goal of the season, and his league-leading seventh game winning goal. It’s also worth noting that it was a well deserved assist for Salinas, who was brilliant all night, orchestrating most of the attacks with his speed and creativity.
“Shea [Salinas’] service has been excellent,” said Mike Watson. “He’s somebody who thrives off running past defenders. He wants those one-on-one match-ups. He’s quick and has good control and his service is usually very good when he gets in dangerous spots. Tonight, I thought his service was great.”
Quakes had the chance to score other goals in the game, creating multiple chances from crosses inside the zone, where Rapids defense seemed to struggle. Alan Gordon had at least two great scoring chances from headers, as did Wondolowski who had a chance to score from a breakaway at the start of the second half. Quakes outshot the Rapids 8-0 with shots on target. At the same time, Quakes were excellent on their own back end, with Colorado earning only a couple of chances to score – mostly early in the game. Jon Busch earned his eighth shutout of the season.
“As the season draws to an end, it feels like each game gets more emotional,” said Chris Wondolowski. “The guys were loose before the game and it helped ease the nerves because this match was a must-win situation here at home. We were so excited to play tonight; I was fired up all game and it’s always great to play in front of our home fans here at Buck Shaw [Stadium]. Now we are a point back of where we want to be and know that if we take care of business we will be rewarded.”
The game turned out to be a close to a complete performance by the home team in front of the sold out crowd of 10,525. The win improved the Quakes to 4-0-1 in their last five games. With two games remaining in the season, San Jose needs to continue winning, as they finish the season against LA and Dallas. But they’re keeping their hopes up and such performance should add to their confidence going into those final games.