Earthquakes Draw In Crucial Match Against Sounders

By Shawn Whelchel

sjearthquakes.com photo: San Jose Earthquakes Chris Wondolowski scores his tenth goal becomes the first player to score ten or more goals in seven seasons as he faces off here against the Seattle Sound on Saturday night at Avaya Stadium

SAN JOSE, Calif.-The Earthquakes struck early, but failed to fend off a late surge from an aggressive Seattle Sounders team on Saturday night, settling for a 1-1 draw in a crucial game in the Western Conference race.

The draw between the Western Conference rivals caps off a frustrating four-game skid for San Jose in which the team has been held without a win while sitting in the 7th spot in the standings.

While the Earthquakes will certainly take the one point allotted to them in Saturday night’ tie, the frustration is mounting within an organization that’s on the fringe of being eliminated from the playoff race.

“It hurts,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear. “If you look at New York, Houston and even tonight, you walk off the field with two points out of those three games. It hurts you in the standings and it hurts because I think we should have had more.”

Entering the day just three points behind the red line in a tight race for the final playoff position, San Jose looked to snap their untimely winless streak with a relentless attack that kept Seattle on their heals through most of the early going.

San Jose tested Seattle’s net minder Stefan Frei early and often while scrapping their way to multiple set pieces early on in the match, sending multiple dangerous attempts towards the net that were just barely turned away.

But it would be none other than Chris Wandolowski who would snap the Earthquakes’ streak of 235 straight minutes without a goal, as the captain would flick a shot passed the outstretched hands of Frei in the 20′ minute after a nice touch by Jordan Stewart sent the ball towards the front of the net.

Wandolowski’s score would mark his 10th career goal against Seattle, the most by a single player in MLS history against the team.

The Sounders would respond with a tempered attack of their own, as Seattle’s Tyrone Mears threatened an equalizer after skipping a ball across the front of the San Jose goal just minutes later, but San Jose would escape the half holding their 1-0 advantage.

Entering the final half of play in a desperate bid to keep their own playoff hopes alive, the Sounders pushed forward against the San Jose defense with relentless pressure of their own, dominating the control of the game.

San Jose’s defense would eventually break on a costly mistake, allowing a free kick from Nicolas Lodeiro to squeak past goaltender David Bingham to notch things up at 1-1.

San Jose fought desperately for a last-minute score to reclaim the lead, sending multiple threatening free kicks and a botched strike by Chad Barrett towards Seattle’s net, but had their efforts turned away to end the night with just one point.

After the game, both coaches expressed dismay at the outcome that barely helped either of the two playoff hopefuls.

“You can’t creep up, you have to take big steps,” said Kinnear. “But right now we’re creeping instead of taking big steps.”

San Jose will look for the elusive three-point win next Saturday in the tough confines of the Colorado Rapids

 

Timbers Rally to Eliminate Quakes From Contention

By Matthew T.F. Harrington

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The nightmare is over for the San Jose Earthquakes. Following a 2-1 loss to the Portland Timbers (10-9-12, 42 points) Saturday night at Buck Shaw Stadium, the Quakes now officially have been eliminated from MLS Cup contention. No longer will a San Jose player have to talk about the faint possibility of making up points in the standings to make a postseason run in a campaign that from its onset seemed fated for a struggle.

There has been plenty of bad luck going around Santa Clara County. A smattering of injuries to backbone players, players like Steven Lenhart, Clarence Goodson and a litany of others, compounded with a lack of consistency among the healthy and an on-and-off scoring touch see the Quakes (6-13-11, 29 points) one spot ahead of Chivas USA, a team set to take a few seasons off following financial struggles, for dead last place in the Western Conference.

“A lot of good work and effort in front of our fans was all for naught tonight,” said Earthquakes defender Jason Hernandez. “They say you make your own luck. We try our hardest every night but we just can’t seem to get our heads above water. It’s very frustrating.”

Saturday’s game served as the perfect metaphor for the season. After a 56th minute Chris Wondolowski strike, his 14th of the season, handed San Jose the lead the Earthquakes looked on their way to their first win in 11 games. Perhaps in another season, that’d be the case. But in the year of misfortune, things wouldn’t be that easy for the men in blue.

“It was another frustrating night,” said head coach Mark Watson. “I thought we played well at times. We knew we were playing a good team who wanted to possess the ball. I thought we defended well and had a bunch of chances.”

Reminiscent of the last meeting between these two teams, the Timbers tied the game late, this time on a deflection by Rodney Wallace in the 71st minute. Just three minutes later, the bounces went against San Jose again, this time by way of the double-deflection goal for Wallace. Just like that, three points became one became none for San Jose.

“Portland is a good team, but to give up two deflection goals is the story of our season,” said Hernandez. “I’d love to have some deflection goals go in for us. I feel like we’ve been on the wrong end of things for most of the year.”

“The two goals they scored, the deflections, is the way our season is going,” added Watson. “I’m really disappointed for our guys. They came out motivated to win in front of their home fans, and once again, we leave disappointed.”

The Quakes hold a second chance to play spoiler to Portland’s playoff hopes Wednesday. They travel to the Pacific Northwest with a chance to Keep Portland, two points ahead of Vancouver for the final Western Conference playoff spot, from widening the gap.

For the Quakes, Wednesday could mark one of the final four games of Coach Mark Watson’s tenure as bench boss. Rumors have swirled that Watson, who took over as interim coach following the departure of Frank Yallop during the 2013 season, may be terminated at the end of the season. While it would be easy for Watson and co. to pack it up over the next few weeks, don’t expect to see the Quakes go soft.

“It’s about pride right now,” said Watson. “It’s about character, pride. Every time you step on the practice field or on the field for a game, you do your best, work as hard as you can. Fight for this club. I have no doubt our guys will do that right until the end of the season.”

Watson isn’t the only one facing uncertainty at season’s end. Many players are motivated to continue toiling away to earn a spot on a squad, be it with the Earthquakes or in the MLS and beyond.

“There’s plenty of motivation,” said Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch. “You play for points, you play for pride in the jersey, you play for pride in your own blood, and you’re playing for contracts. The list goes on and on. If you don’t have motivation to play then you just need to get out of here.”

Quakes top Rapids to stay alive in MLS playoffs race

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San Jose Earthquakes Jordan Stewart celebrates on top of his teammates as Chris Wondolowski (in the center) scored against Colorado Rapids at Buck Shaw Stadium. Photo by Michael Bonocore Photography

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.

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