With six wins and three losses in matches decided by just one goal this season, the San Jose Earthquakes have one of the best records in MLS for such close-run affairs.
That being said, the Quakes wouldn’t mind if they didn’t have to keep biting their nails on every shot as time winds down.
So as San Jose travel to New York for their match against the Red Bulls on Saturday, they’re not only considering how to stop the DP trio of Thierry Henry, Juan Pablo Angel and Rafa Márquez – they’re also working on how to put away games with the critical second or third tally. The Quakes haven’t won by multiple goals since May 9, and their last four victories were all by one goal.
“We definitely need to start finishing those chances when we can,” Quakes forward Chris Wondolowski said. “Otherwise, it will come back to bite us.”
That almost happened last weekend. Wondolowski put the Quakes up 1-0 on the Galaxy in the fourth minute, and San Jose spent the rest of the game fending off Los Angeles’ attempts to equalize. Goalkeeper Jon Busch came up with seven saves, including a sparkling pair against Galaxy star Landon Donovan, to preserve the win.[inline_node:316610]
WATCH: HIGHLIGHTS: SJ 1, LA 0
San Jose had their opportunities at the other end to put the match away in the second half, but never really forced a shaky Donovan Ricketts to make a game-saving play. Cornell Glen hit a post in the 49th minute, Arturo Alvarez missed high in the 77th and Ryan Johnson was just wide in the 86th.
“This time, I thought we did a good job and kept creating chances,” Wondolowski said. “We just need to finish [them]. Those are chances that we couldn’t put away, [but] if we do…”
If they do, then opposing coaches such as Bruce Arena can no longer claim that their team “gift-wrapped three points” for the Quakes, as he did on Saturday.
Alvarez was kicking himself mentally for not getting his shot on net after being sprung by a Khari Stephenson chip.
“[Ricketts] got big,” Alvarez said. “He’s a big dude. Maybe I should have just kept it low. I tried to place it too high and it went over. It happened so fast, but I’ve definitely got to take advantage of that opportunity. Those are the ones that count. I just need to put them away.”
While Wondolowski pointed out that grinding out 1-0 victories are an admirable trait in a team looking to crash the postseason, Alvarez knows that there’s also something to be said for clubs that don’t have to go that route.
“Teams that can take advantage of their opportunities and kill games off," Alvarez said, "those are the teams that are going to go farther."
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes