Thanks to Chris Wondolowski’s 10th goal of the year, San Jose’s within a sliver of a playoff spot, with the Earthquakes’ 1-0 victory Wednesday over visiting Colorado leaving them one point behind the fifth-place Rapids.
The goal came in the 69th minute, with the reigning Major League Soccer Most Valuable Player Chris Wondolowski taking advantage of young Shane O’Neill on a corner kick. On the Shea Salinas out-swinger, “Wondo” gave the young central defender a small shove, catching him off balance with the type of normally innocuous contact that’s standard procedure on corner kicks. That left the San Jose captain essentially unmarked from nine yards out, his header going into the right side-netting for the game’s only goal.
That game-winner made up for goals Wondolowski could have had in the 50th, 64th, and 69th minutes. Just after halftime, he found himself going in alone on goal after badly beating O’Neill off the dribble, but a poor finish into Clint Irwin’s feet left the score 0-0. On the next chance, Wondolowski got the ball past Irwin only to see a retreating Drew Moor save his shot off the line. Five minutes later, a header toward the top of goal off a restart from the right was palmed out for a corner – the corner Wondo buried for the winner.
Later, Clint Irwin swallowed an Alan Gordon header put on goal from a corner kick – another highlight of the Colorado’s keeper strong yet losing effort. Though the final score was 1-0, it would have been much worse without the play of the Rapids’ Man of the Match.
Ultimately, the mere fact Colorado lost was more important than how it happened. Now, only one point up on San Jose, they close the season with a home-and-home against a Vancouver team coming off a 4-1 thrashing of Seattle. Sweep that series, and Colorado’s in. Drop points, and they’ll need the Earthquakes’ help to stay in the top five. Drop too many points, and Vancouver (three points back) will pass the Rapids.
As for San Jose, they still need help to make the playoffs. Even if they sweep their final two games (at LA and home to Dallas) they could still find themselves on the outside looking in. If the Galaxy win Wednesday against Montréal or in their season finale at Seattle, the defending champions are assured of finishing ahead of the Earthquakes. If that happens while Colorado sweeps Vancouver, San Jose’s late charge will be for naught.
Well, almost for naught. Even if San Jose doesn’t return to the postseason, we’re going to remember this run. We’re going to remember their poor start, all the early-season injuries they had to overcome, and how close they are to rendering all that adversity meaningless. LA, Colorado, or Vancouver may surge over the next two weeks, and San Jose may be left out in the cold, but after the run Matt Watson’s stoked his team to throughout the summer, nobody who’s followed the league will forget the end to the 2013 season …
Even if such memories will be no consolation to the players if they don’t return to the postseason.