Going into the 2012 season, the San Jose Earthquakes brain trust thought they had assembled the club’s best roster since rejoining MLS as an expansion side five years ago.
On Saturday night, the Quakes provided the most tangible bit of validation so far to that theory, making a 24th-minute penalty kick goal from Chris Wondolowski hold up for a 1-0 road win against previously unbeaten Seattle Sounders FC.
This wasn’t beating up on two squads expected to land near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, as San Jose had done in previous weeks against New England and Toronto FC. This was delivering a body blow to a Seattle team that has its sights firmly set on the MLS Cup, and doing so in front of 38,301 howling-mad fans at CenturyLink Field.
“We just go about our business,” said Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch, who authored his third shutout in four matches. “We talked about it in preseason. We’re here for one job. We know we’re deep enough to win the Cup this year.”
HIGHLIGHTS: SEA vs SJ
While the Quakes (3-1-0) may have been talking about an MLS Cup run amongst themselves, there weren’t many outside observers taking that line in public.
So, Wondolowski was asked, will this win make more people believe in the quality of the 2012 Quakes?
“Don’t know, don’t care,” Wondolowski said. “They can take us seriously, they can not take us seriously. All I know is that we’re going to go out, battle and try to get three points every week. That’s all we can do and all we want to do.”
The Quakes became just the second team to win twice in Seattle during regular-season MLS play, joining the LA Galaxy in that select club.
But comparing this victory to San Jose’s other triumph in Seattle is a bit like putting a Model T and a Lamborghini on the track together. When the Quakes posted a 1-0 win against the Sounders on May 22, 2010, they were outshot by Seattle 18-3, with the only goal coming after a fortuitously deflected cross landed at Wondolowski’s feet in the 11th minute.
“The other time we won 1-0, Seattle should have won that game,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop said. “I think they outplayed us in every department. Tonight, I thought we deserved a victory. It’s not often you can say that. I think it was a well-earned three points on the road, which is difficult to do in our league.”
It’s easier when you have a defense that still hasn’t allowed a goal in the run of play through four matches, a streak that continued thanks to some stellar second-half work despite the absence of captain Ramiro Corrales, who was felled just before halftime by a clattering tackle from Seattle’s Christian Sivebaek.
The Quakes showed off some of their depth to start the second half, bringing Jason Hernandez, long a mainstay of the backline, off the bench and sliding Justin Morrow out to left back. The Sounders still couldn’t break through, despite 12 shots after intermission.
Busch turned aside a couple of menacing efforts from Fredy Montero, but David Estrada, MLS’ leading scorer coming into the match, was kept well under wraps, as the defense rarely lost its shape.
That’s the kind of suffocating defense the Quakes specialized in during 2010, when they started 5-2-1 en route to a semifinal berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
“I was the strongest believer from Day 1, once we made some off-season acquisitions and I saw this team put together,” Wondolowski said. “Even though it took a bit of time in the preseason, [once] we started gelling, I knew we have something special. We had a talk at the beginning of the year, and we have high expectations of ourselves. This win doesn’t make me any more of a believer or any less. I believed in our team from the get-go.”
Of course, it’s still March, and no matter how strong your belief runs, there are still 30 more matches to go, beginning with a matchup next weekend against a surprisingly strong Vancouver side.
“We’re not getting carried away,” Busch said. “At the end of the day, this is just game [No.] 4 and we’ve got to keep moving forward.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com