Sam Cronin goal celebration vs. Montreal Impact
John Todd /

Surging Quakes emphasize Never-Say-Die mentality for playoff fight

Earthquakes field general Sam Cronin has started every game this season, absorbing the highs and lows, a dramatic coaching change and some serious Goonies magic.

Now he’s ready for the big finish. His teammates are, too.

When the surging Earthquakes host the Colorado Rapids on Oct. 9 after a bye this week, in a showdown between teams vying for a playoff spot, Cronin stands to make his 100th career start with the club.

The Earthquakes are coming off a massive 1-0 road win over Chivas USA, which showcased the team’s gritty defense, flair for the dramatic and typically cagey play from Cronin, a central midfielder.

“That was a really, really massive three points for us,” said Cronin, who came to the Earthquakes in 2010 from Toronto FC for allocation money. “Our play wasn’t necessarily as sharp as we wanted it to be, but at this point of the season, a lot of times it’s difficult that way.”

Cronin described Chivas USA’s defense as being more organized and difficult to break down in the second half of the season. But the Quakes, playing a man down over the final nine minutes, finally picked the lock on Chris Wondolowski’s 32nd career game-winning goal in the 87th minute as he followed in a blast off the keeper by Alan Gordon.

“I’m just pretty happy with how we kept fighting, regardless of the red card, and just charged on,” Cronin said. “The mentality was great on the field. The soccer, we’d like it to be a bit cleaner and more fluid, but the mentality and effort and fight ... there was a playoff-esque vibe from our team.”

A 5-foot-10 and 160-pound soccer barometer, Cronin has logged 2,301 minutes in 31 matches this season. That’s a lot, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I don’t want to miss a minute, to be honest,” Cronin said. “I want to be healthy, available and sharp the whole season. I’ve been able to do that. I wish my play was a little better at times, but in terms of just being available and relatively healthy, I’m really happy with that.”

The Earthquakes are happy about that, too, especially during a season in which national team call-ups and suspensions have created an aura of instability league-wide. But Cronin’s feet are firmly planted on the field, week in and week out.

Goalkeeper Jon Busch is another iron man, having played in every minute of every game this season.

The Earthquakes entered the week one point out of the fifth and final playoff spot. People are starting to open their eyes again to the team's never-say-die mantra

“We believe – that’s the main thing,” defender Steven Beitashour said after the Chivas USA match. “We knew we were a good team from the beginning of the season. Obviously, we were fighting a lot of injuries in the beginning, a lot of suspensions, and international duty. But now we have everybody back and we still believe we are a good team.”

San Jose will be without Honduran internationals Marvin Chavez and Victor Bernardez for the Colorado match, but Cordell Cato and Shea Salinas have been sharp out wide, and veteran center back Jason Hernandez proved quite capable Chivas USA, stepping in for Clarence Goodson.

“We have good depth on the team,” Cronin said. “At this point of the season, everyone’s really tuned in and focused on the task at hand, not just the starting 11, but from the first guy on the team to the last guy on the team. We have no issues with people stepping in. Come kickoff against Colorado, we’ll have 18 guys who are ready to go.”

Cronin also credits interim coach Mark Watson with holding everything together after taking over for his mentor Frank Yallop in the middle of the season, when things weren't going so well.

"He basically got us back to work and focused on the task at hand," Cronin said of Watson.

Now the focus shifts to Oct. 9. Buck Shaw will be jumping.

Other Earthquakes’ milestones pending: Jon Busch worked his 74th career shutout against Chivas USA, moving to No. 5 in MLS history.  … Wondolowski is one game-winning goal away from tying Ante Razov (33) for No. 3 on the all-time MLS list … Wondolowski (132) will surpass John Doyle (132) for No. 7 on the club’s all-time appearance list with his next game. … Ramiro Corrales is one game away from No. 250 in his Earthquakes’ career. Steven Lenhart (19), who is suspended this week, and Alan Gordon (18) are both closing in on Jeff Baicher (20) for No. 7 on the club’s all-time goals list. … Shea Salinas (19) is one assist away from tying Ian Russell for No. 10 on the club’s all-time list … Jason Hernandez (12,347) is 36 minutes away from surpassing Ronald Cerritos for No. 4 on the club’s all-time minutes played list.

- Richter Media

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