Think back to the beginning of July. The Earthquakes, having just beaten the Galaxy 3-1 at Stanford and coming off a three-game winning streak, seemed poised to enter the playoff hunt.
Then they lost at Avaya to the Galaxy the following Wednesday. Then they fell to Portland. Then Houston. Then another … and another. They’d go on to lose every single game they played in the month of July (international friendlies included). They tumbled down the table, and watched as their playoff chances dwindled. August came around and they drew at home against Portland, a brief respite from their losing ways before they’d drop another in Houston.
But two weeks ago something changed. At home, they played a stingy game to earn a 1-0 victory. Then they demolished Sporting Kansas City — a very good team — 5-0 on the road. They traveled to D.C. and beat United 2-0. And on Friday, at home against the best team in the league which also happens to be their arch-rival, the Earthquakes defeated the Galaxy 1-0 to move securely into a playoff position.
“I think that Kansas City game was huge for a lot of people,” said Coach Kinnear.
“The Colorado game was big because it was a win and kind of got us going. But the Kansas City game was key for us because we won against a good team and we played really well.”
This game, which could be considered the Earthquakes biggest game of the year — the third installment of El Clasico, the rubber match between the rivals, and the playoff implications — might prove to be the most vital of all Quakes games this month.
“This was very important for us,” said defender Shaun Francis. “The main thing is we have to remain focused and can’t get too far ahead. Just because we fought back into playoff positioning doesn’t mean we can’t fall back out. We’ve won four in a row without conceding a goal, but our job is not done. We need to continue with this play and grow with each victory.”
Shea Salinas scored the lone goal of the game — a header off a floating rebound right in front of the net in the 18th minute. The ball, initially headed by Quincy Amarikwa (who had a tremendous game) from a Marvell Wynne center, tipped off Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts’ hands and lofted right in front of the net. Salinas lost his marker, Omar Gonzalez, and buried the ball with ease.
“I made a near post run,” Salinas said. “Marvell put in a great cross, and Quincy fought and got on the end of it. Ricketts made a great save. God just put me in the right place and I was able to put it in the back of the net.”
With the goal, the eight year veteran set a career-high in goals with three. It was also the first time since his rookie season that Salinas has scored in back-to-back games (Credit: Geoff Lepper).
“He just looks confident,” said Coach Kinnear. “He looks like he’s enjoying the game. I think he feels that no matter who the defender is, playing against him, I think he feels he can beat him. And if we get him the ball in a timely fashion where he can get room to run at guys, it makes it better for us.”
The Earthquakes controlled possession for most of the first half and came out hungry in the second. Two minutes into the latter part of the match, Quincy Amarikwa sprinted past Galaxy defender Leonardo to earn possession of the ball. Leonardo, being the last defender back, yanked the dynamic Quakes forward to the ground, forcing referee Jose Carlos Rivero to make a tough decision. Ultimately, Leonardo was sent off with a straight red and LA played down a man for the rest of the game.
From there on, the Earthquakes played a more restrained game, understanding the pressure was squarely on Los Angeles.
The Earthquakes have shut out their opponents in their last four games. Should they continue to play as they did Friday night, the Earthquakes have the potential to be the most dangerous team marching into the playoffs.
“I think the guys were all up for the game anyway,” said Coach Kinnear. “I thought (the Earthquakes) were great tonight. In the first half I thought we played some real good stuff. We defended well. Obviously they were lumping balls in the box and making things difficult for us late on. But all in all, really happy with this group. I think the last three weeks, we’ve been good. And we’ve followed those performances up with a good level of consistency, and that’s the reason why we’re winning games.”