SANTA CLARA, Calif. – After 45 minutes spent fruitlessly banging up against the 10-man defensive shell put forth by CD Heredia on Wednesday, the San Jose Earthquakes had their fill of frustration.
Already on edge after being essentially knocked out of the MLS playoffs with a tie Sunday against the LA Galaxy, the Quakes reached their boiling point in CONCACAF Champions League play when their Guatemalan visitors tried to park an Evel Knievel-worthy fleet of buses in front of their goal.
Only a 62nd-minute goal from Quakes star Chris Wondolowski gave San Jose some relief – and a bit of redemption. The Quakes’ 1-0 win, along with a superior goal differential, gave them the top spot in a CCL Group 5 table where all three teams, including MLS rival Montreal, finished on six points.
“It was definitely a frustrating time,” Wondolowski said of San Jose’s scoreless first half. “We knew that we had 45 minutes to regroup and get together, but to be honest, there was definitely some carryover frustration from Sunday. It was one of those things that you start pushing too much.”
In the end, San Jose pushed just enough, although the result hardly makes up for the fact that San Jose will miss the MLS playoffs – barring at least a 12-goal explosion against FC Dallas in the club’s regular-season finale Saturday. It does, however, give the Quakes something to point towards as they try to rediscover the form that made them Supporters’ Shield winners in 2012.
“We talked about it the last couple of days, that we want to make it into the next round,” goalkeeper Jon Busch said. “That’s a big step for this club. I’m proud of them.”
Said Wondolowski: “We came into this season having two goals. We didn’t accomplish one, but this was the other one, to advance. It’s something we can hang our hats on.”
Quakes coach Mark Watson expressed surprise at the game plan from Heredia, who made clear their intentions with a 5-4-1 formation that often left striker Charles Cordova as the only player in San Jose’s half of the field.
“We watched their game in Montreal, where the variables were still the same,” Watson said, referring to Heredia’s eventual 2-0 loss to the Impact on Sept. 24. “They needed a draw or a win and they would go through, and they were really aggressive. They pressed really high. So I thought they would take that same approach tonight, and they obviously didn’t. And tactically, it’s a very different game to deal with.”
The Quakes squandered their chances to blow things open early. Wondolowski lifted a rebound over the crossbar in the sixth minute, and a flurry of chances in the final 15 minutes of the first half came to naught.
But San Jose kept the pressure on, and Watson’s insertion of Alan Gordon for Rafael Baca helped make a difference. Gordon occupied Heredia’s last defender on the back post as Steven Beitashour’s right-wing cross bounded through the Guatemalans’ penalty area in the 62nd minute. That gave Shea Salinas plenty of time to collect the ball and serve it up on a platter for Wondolowski, who had snuck into the middle of Heredia’s recovering defense and volleyed home in serene fashion from seven yards.
“We kept our composure and kept working, and got our one goal,” Busch said. “Some games, that’s all you need. You’ve got to take what’s on the table, and tonight, only one goal was on the table.”