Bumped and bruised, Quakes shutout streak soothes any pain

Tight win in Seattle is San Jose's fourth straight clean sheet

The visitors’ locker room at Qwest Field was full Saturday afternoon with San Jose Earthquakes inspecting and comparing their litany of bumps and scrapes.

Yet even as they limped onto their team bus, the Quakes knew their pain would be temporary. San Jose’s 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders, on the other hand, will be reflected for the rest of the season in the standings.

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The Quakes improved to 5-2-1 with their fourth consecutive shutout, and it was the kind of game that required almost every field player to offer up a body part or two in order to stave off Seattle’s relentless attacks. The Sounders, desperate to redeem themselves after a 4-0 pasting by Los Angeles in their previous home match, dominated possession and launched 18 shots to San Jose’s three.

But fully six of those attempted were deflected by San Jose defenders intent on making Chris Wondolowski’s 11th-minute goal stand up. Goalkeeper Joe Cannon was called upon to make three saves.

“I’m walking away without a left leg and a right foot,” Quakes right back Chris Leitch joked to MLSsoccer.com. “We were just showering and everyone was complaining about bruises and strawberries, and everyone’s hobbling around, but that’s what you need to win a game sometimes, especially in this league, especially in Seattle.

“Sometimes you’ve got to sacrifice a lot to gain three points and today was no exception.”

It’s the first time the Quakes have strung together four consecutive shutouts since the second half of 2004, when the team was defending its second MLS championship. Of San Jose’s last eight wins—five from this season and three from the end of 2009, when the Quakes started to right their ship, defensively speaking—four of them have been by 1-0 scorelines.

For a team that came into 2010 searching for an identity, it’s a pretty good one to have.

“I think that’s a great scoreline, because for any team to win 1-0, it’s hard,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s great when you go up 3-0, but that’s not difficult. 1-0 victories are hard because the other team is right in the game and you’ve got to stay calm, stay focused and make sure you see the game out.”

San Jose succeeded at that, even though they hunkered down a little too much for comfort, having by the end simply battened down the hatches while Seattle huffed and puffed and tried to blow the house down.

“The last 10 minutes felt like an eternity,” center back Bobby Burling told MLSsoccer.com.

You could go up and down the Quakes lineup, ticking off defensive highlights: Leitch slid in to break up a potential one-on-one breakaway by Steve Zakuani. Burling calmly swept balls clear of the 6-yard box. Jason Hernandez dove to block a blast from the edge of the box. Bobby Convey leapt in the way of a cross off the boot of Freddie Ljungberg. Joe Cannon charged off his line to block a Zakuani shot with his knee.

“We’re starting to believe it,” forward Chris Wondolowski said of the Quakes’ defense. “We’re over that shock now that our defense is that good.”

Wondolowski continues to make believers of his own. He was stationed at the far post when Joey Gjertsen swept in a cross from the right wing. Brandon McDonald flicked the ball on with a header, and a good knock from a Sounders defender kept Burling from getting a clean header of his own.

The ball instead glanced off of Burling and bounced directly to the far post and the feet of an unmarked Wondolowski, who hammered the ball home for his fifth goal in only six appearances this season.

After that, it was just a matter of holding on. Given the Sounders’ need for a result, the 35,953 in the stands and the withering second-half pressure, it might be the Quakes’ most impressive win of the year.

“We had that mentality coming in,” Wondolowski said. “In our pre-game notes, our [goal] was to get three points, not to play for a tie or anything like that. We want to get a win, against anyone we play.” 

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes