SANTA CLARA, Calif. – As the set-piece opportunities kept piling up for the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday, so did the frustration.
There was the corner kick that led to a header off the post. Then a free-kick redirection stopped by a diving, one-handed deflection by the opposing 'keeper.
Yet as the hour mark came and went with the Colorado Rapids still holding San Jose to a scoreless draw, the Quakes kept their faith that something would eventually break their way.
Thanks to another inch-perfect delivery from Shea Salinas, it finally did.
In the 69th minute, Chris Wondolowski intersected with the seventh of Salinas’ eight corner kicks to bring home the only goal in San Jose’s 1-0 victory. The near-post ball was placed so expertly – and struck so well by Wondolowski – that Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin, who had made multiple spectacular saves to keep Colorado in the match, was left flat-footed on his line.
“I thought we had four or five really good chances to score” before breaking through, Quakes interim coach Mark Watson told reporters. “All credit to our guys for their perseverance, to keep plugging away and keep going at them and getting opportunities. Sometimes when you get opportunity after opportunity that doesn’t go in, guys tend to drop their heads. Our guys didn’t do that.”
With Marvin Chavez in and out of the Quakes lineup this season, Salinas has taken over the primary dead-ball duties. Wednesday was one of his high points in terms of consistently creating danger out of those situations.
“We had a ton of set pieces,” Salinas said. “Guys were fighting for balls. We were fighting for every 50-50 ball, which let us get a lot of free kicks. We’ve been working on those in practice, and guys were making good runs in behind. We just couldn’t find that one that hit the back of the net until the very end. Wondo nailed one, and it was awesome.”
Said Watson: “Sharp runs [on set pieces] are what’s going to help you get your head on the ball, but if you don’t have good service, it’s pointless.”
Wondolowski thought for sure he had scored earlier in the 69th minute, when Salinas took a free kick from deep on the right wing and the reigning MLS MVP put a head on it, only to see Irwin reverse direction and slap the ball away with a spectacular diving reach.
The ensuing corner kick finally brought the goal Wondolowski and the Quakes were so desperately seeking.
“On the one right before [the goal], he found me, whipped in a great ball and truth be told, I thought it was in when it left my head,” Wondolowski said. “I was just so grateful that Shea found me again right after. ... I vividly remember both Jason Hernandez and Sam Cronin telling me, ‘Keep going. You’re going to get one. You’re going to get one.’ It’s that motivation that keeps you going.”