Even down to 10 men, Chris Wondolowski wasn’t going to let the San Jose Earthquakes’ latest must-win match slip away.
Just six minutes after Steven Lenhart was ejected for receiving a second yellow card, Wondolowski pounced on a rebound from Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. The reigning league MVP coolly slotted home from 10 yards in the 87th minute to give the Quakes a shocking 1-0 victory and continue what is building into a most improbable postseason run.
“Our guys were fantastic, and kept fighting and persevering right through the end,” Quakes interim coach Mark Watson told reporters at the StubHub Center. “And we got the goal that we were so desperate for.”
With their second road win in as many weekends – after opening the season 1-10-3 away from home – San Jose (12-11-8) took sole possession of sixth place in the Western Conference. The Quakes, who bounced between seventh and eighth for much of the last four months, haven’t been this well placed in the standings since May 11, when they were tied for fifth.
San Jose sit on 44 points, one back of Colorado and the LA Galaxy – who just happen to be the Quakes’ next two opponents.
“With these games, especially ones that you need to win, you don’t know if those chances are going to come in the first minute or the 90th minute,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “So you just have to stay the course and just keep plugging away. I think that’s something we’re pretty good at.”
The Quakes came in knowing they needed at least 10 points from their last four matches to realistically have a chance of making the postseason field. While not mathematically necessary, winning against last-place Chivas (6-17-8) was certainly an imperative.
“We had the mindset going in the game that we needed to win,” Watson said. “But it’s not like we threw everything forward from the first minute. We needed to be smart about it. . . . Once we went down a player, we had to be even a little bit more [careful] in terms of not letting them score a goal and still give ourselves a chance to win the game, even if it was in injury time.”
It looked as though Lenhart had given San Jose their desperately needed breakthrough with a powerful header from a 47th-minute corner kick. But referee Jose Carlos Rivero blew the play dead before the ball crossed the end line, apparently citing Quakes midfielder Cordell Cato, who was involved in some serious jostling with Chivas USA defender Carlos Borja at the edge of the 6-yard box.
When Kennedy tipped over a shot by Cato in the 63rd minute, then stoned Wondolowski in a one-on-one battle two minutes after that, it looked as if the Quakes’ renaissance under Watson might have come to an end.
Instead, Watson improved to 9-5-2 since taking over from Frank Yallop in June.
The Quakes broke out on a counter attack in the 87th, the ball flowing smoothly from Jordan Stewart to Jason Hernandez to Cato to Alan Gordon. Gordon’s shot from well outside the penalty area dipped and moved dangerously, forcing Kennedy into playing it off his chest. Wondolowski shot past Chivas youngster Jaime Frias – who was only in the match because Steve Purdy suffered an injury via a first-half Lenhart elbow – to poach his ninth league goal of 2013.
So, Wondolowski was asked, is this feeling like a team of destiny?
“It’s a team that’s getting the job done one game at a time right now,” Wondolowski said. “We still have a lot of work that we have to do. We’ve put ourselves in this position, but I can definitely tell you one thing: Every single guy, to a man, still has faith and belief that we’re going to do this. And we’re going to work every minute to do it.”