For 87 minutes, the San Jose Earthquakes’ playoff chances seemed to be dwindling away. A loss meant a ninth place spot in the standings, and four points behind the last playoff position, with three games left to play.
Chance after chance was being thwarted by either Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Romando or an errant touch by an Earthquake player. Chris Wondolowski was denied on the door step; Matias Perez Garcia had several opportunities from right outside the box that missed high or wide; Quincy Amarikwa’s tries at goal were shot harmlessly at the goalie or sailed wide.
Looking back at the game as a whole, it appears that the soccer gods were toying with San Jose fans. Because in the 87th minute, the gods sent the Earthquakes the most fortunate of deflections.
“The one thing was we didn’t stop pushing forward,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear after his team won 1-0.
“And we didn’t get frustrated and put our heads down. That was a positive thing. I really liked our determination right from the first minute. I thought we were good for a goal at halftime, and told the guys, ‘Look, let’s carry that from the first half over to the second half.’ Now in saying that, when you see the chances kind of go and go and go, you’re always a little bit negative in thinking the other team’s going to get a chance, and let’s be honest, they did have a couple chances. It would have been really, I would maybe say unfair, if the game were to end in a different fashion. And funny enough, it’s a little bit of a fluky goal that wins us the game. But I thought we totally deserved it.”
The fluky goal Kenner spoke of was a shot by MPG from about five yards outside the box. The left-footer, usually known for setting up goals, aimed his shot to the left of the goal when it hit 6’ 3”, 210 pound Jamison Olave and ricocheted to the right side of the goal. Rimando, having already commit to the left, watched hopelessly as the ball bounced into the net.
“It’s not the way we drew it up, but I think it’s good to get a grind-it-out win,” said captain Chris Wondolowski.
“It gives us three points. It gives that belief. We’ve always had that. But it’s nice to finally pull one out at the end.”
One thing the goal won’t give the Earthquakes, however, is MPG at home against Vancouver. In his celebration of the goal, MPG took off his shirt, threw it up in the air, and celebrated what could be the most important goal of the season. Taking off one’s shirt is a yellow card, and MPG had already received one 11 minutes earlier. He was sent off before play was restarted.
“In the moment, the joy, I wasn’t thinking about the other card,” MPG said.
“We had so many chances, we attacked the entire game. We cannot leave points on the table. We needed the three points. The moment I scored the goal, the craziness started.”
So while MPG may be the savior today, depending on next week’s outcome, the decision to celebrate illegally (while the merits of such a rule are certainly arguable) may come back to haunt the Earthquakes and their leader in assists.
“Obviously looking back on it now, it’s not the smartest thing to do,” said coach Kinnear. “He probably, in the moment, didn’t realize he had a yellow card. In the end, I’m glad we won the game and that’s the most important thing.”
The Earthquakes are now one point out of a playoff spot, although both Kansas City and Portland have a game in-hand on the Earthquakes. Theoretically, if both teams were to win their games in hand, the Earthquakes would be three points out of a playoff spot behind Seattle.
“That’s what we’re happy about,” said Earthquake goalkeeper David Bingham. “Three points is big for us. Now we’re onto the next game looking (forward) to Vancouver next weekend.”