San Jose captain Jason Hernandez thought it was a change in attitude. Coach Frank Yallop credited his players’ ability to adapt tactically. Forward Chris Wondolowski talked about the motivation sent by two halftime substitutions.
Whatever the reason, San Jose’s playoff hopes received a huge boost when the Earthquakes rebounded from a decidedly subpar first half Wednesday night to post a 1-0 victory against the Philadelphia Union.
It was Wondolowski’s 69th-minute goal – an unmarked header to the back post off Arturo Alvarez’s softly lofted cross from the right side – that made the difference on the scoreboard. But there were almost as many theories as to how the hosts recovered from being outplayed in the opening 45 minutes as there are wins – 10 and counting – to the Quakes’ credit this season.
San Jose are now eight points clear of ninth-place Toronto FC and closing in on their first playoff berth since being re-formed in 2008.
The most obvious halftime changes came in terms of personnel. Having watched his team survive a desultory opening 45 minutes on the back of two diving saves by Jon Busch, Yallop made it clear at the interval that settling for a 0-0 draw with the expansion Union was unacceptable.
To that end, Yallop brought on Eduardo in place of a gimpy Khari Stephenson and swapped Alvarez with Joey Gjertsen to provide more firepower at right midfield.
“Khari’s a great addition, but he definitely wasn’t 100 percent out there,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com. “[The moves] sent us the message that we’re out here to win the game. A tie would have been alright, but we were looking for three points, and it paid off. Arturo had a great cross for the goal.”
Alvarez was able to deliver the ball to Wondolowski after collecting a Bobby Convey cross that sailed in from the opposite sideline. That’s exactly the kind of thing Yallop stressed during his halftime talk – a need to move the ball on the flanks and to switch the ball from side to side against a Philadelphia team that often overloaded the middle of the pitch.
“We looked to stretch the field,” Yallop said. “And I think that helped. I think Bobby gave us more width in the second half and Arturo gave us some width as well. We talked about tactics at halftime; you tell the guys, but they’ve got to go out and do it.”
To Hernandez, the team simply needed a mental checkup more than anything. The Quakes felt that they were the better team, but certainly hadn’t shown that in the opening half.
“Honestly, I think it was attitude,” Hernandez told MLSsoccer.com. “We weren’t going to let tired legs, we weren’t going to let maybe some sloppy play due to the fatigue and quick turnaround [be their undoing]. We just weren’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer. We talked about that. Guys here, we see that playoff spot, and we’re not going to give it up to anyone.”
Alvarez allowed that he didn’t mind taking a seat for the first time in seven matches because of the recent grind.
“I’m glad I came in and sparked things up a little bit,” Alvarez told MLSsoccer.com. “I want to have that kind of impact every time I’m on the field, whether I’m coming on [as a substitute] or starting.”
In the end, Yallop’s “ploy,” as he called it, worked perfectly, with both subs playing a part in the game-winning goal. Eduardo was the target for Convey’s initial pass, drawing the attention of Philadelphia’s defense as he fell in the six-yard box. That afforded Alvarez a chance to settle the ball to his liking, and allowed Wondolowski to slip in unguarded to a dangerous spot.
“We weren’t marked up right,” Union manager Peter Nowak said. “We had four guys in there defending, they had two attackers, and numerically, that’s a battle we should win every time. We didn’t, and the result went their way.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes