The daydreams wafted up from the turf of BC Place like a hazy mirage for San Jose Earthquakes fans.
In the 55th minute of a scoreless match, Chris Wondolowski was lurking at the back post after Clarence Goodson had raced towards the end line to put his head on Shea Salinas’ skidding free kick. If Wondolowski could just jam home Goodson’s pass and give the Quakes a 1-0 lead, San Jose would have every confidence that their resurgent defense could hold off the Vancouver Whitecaps.
A fourth consecutive victory, a third clean sheet in four league matches, a second road win in 2013 -- it was almost close enough to touch.
Then Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted stuck out his left hand and the images turned out to be as artificial as the pitch.
The stab from Ousted deflected the ball just enough to keep Wondolowski from making clean contact, and the Whitecaps’ defense scrambled for a clearance. That kept Vancouver on even terms until the hosts found a classic counterattacking goal just five minutes later through Camilo and a back-breaking score in the 74th from Kenny Miller.
So instead of a building wave of confidence that the 2012 Supporters’ Shield winners weren’t finished in the 2013 playoff chase, the Quakes saw their three-match winning streak end with a 2-0 thud. A victory would have put the Quakes level with Vancouver on 33 points (although the Whitecaps have played one less match). Now, San Jose have 10 games remaining and likely need 20 or more points from those contests to get back among the Western Conference’s top five clubs.
“We knew there was a lot on the line, so we’re obviously disappointed,” Quakes interim coach Mark Watson told reporters. “We had a couple opportunities to score. One or two [goals] early on, it may have changed the game. ... That’s the game, right? The team that scores its chances wins.”
It was a loss made all the more galling by the fact that the opening hour was arguably the Quakes’ best 60-minute stretch on the road all season long. Vancouver’s high-powered offense was kept largely in check, and the Quakes had multiple chances to come out on top. In addition to Ousted’s breakup of the potential Goodson-Wondolowski connection, the Danish keeper did well to drop and cover Cordell Cato’s low shot in the 39th minute, one of six saves on the night.
“For 60 or so minutes, on both sides of the ball, we played well,” Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch told MLSsoccer.com. “We were very organized defensively. ... We did very well with their counterattacks. And on the offensive side, I thought we did some very good things.”
The Quakes have no time to dwell on things, however. Not if they want to make that miraculous postseason comeback a reality.
“Until you’re out, there’s always a chance,” Busch said. “You’ve got to keep going. We know how important these last 10 [matches] are and how important the points are. There’s plenty of points on the table. We’ve just got to keep working.”