Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By KEVIN KOCZWARA
Chris Wondolowski has a knack for stepping up and scoring big goals for the San Jose Earthquakes and he did it again on Wednesday night to keep his club’s playoff hopes alive.
The Earthquakes beat the Colorado Rapids, 1-0, at Buck Shaw Stadium thanks to Wondolowski’s league-leading seventh game-winning goal in the second half. San Jose moves within one point of the Rapids and the Los Angeles Galaxy for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with the win.
San Jose got off to a slow start this season after winning last year’s Supporters’ Shield, but a recent run of 4-0-1 in their last five matches has helped move the Earthquakes back into playoff contention. The win also improved their home unbeaten streak to 15 games.
Colorado (13-10-9, 48 pts.) was able to hold the Quakes (13-11-8, 47 pts.) at bay for much of the first half, with two Alan Gordon headers the closest San Jose would get. The best chance for Gordon came in the 9th minute when he hit the post on a header from a corner.
Colorado’s best chance to grab the lead came in the 19th minute after a poor clearance from Clarence Goodson gifted the ball to Edson Buddle inside the Earthquakes penalty area. Buddle then picked up his head and found Vicente Sanchez with a cross, but the Rapids midfielder was unable to direct the free-header on goal.
San Jose appeared to have the breakthrough in the 51st minute when Wondolowski, last years Golden Boot winner, found himself through on goal after some poor defending by the Rapids, but Clint Irwin jumped off his line and took up a good position to deny last year’s MVP. It wouldn’t be the last time Irwin came up big to keep Colorado in the game.
Irwin wasn’t the only Rapid making big saves, though. In the 64th minute Drew Moor cleared two chances off the goal line in a matter of seconds to keep the Earthquakes off the scoreboard. The first clearance for Moor came after Wondolowski was able to slip a shot past Irwin, but the Colorado defender slid to keep the chance out of the back of the net only to see the rebound fall to Gordon 8-yards from goal. But the San Jose forward put the rebound right back off of Moor, who was still on the ground.
It began to look like it wasn’t going to be San Jose’s night in the 69th minute when Irwin palmed a Wondolowski header from a Shea Salina’s free-kick over the net. The diving, one-handed save from Irwin was top-class and would have frustrated any forward, but Wondolowski didn’t get deterred because on the ensuing corner kick from Salinas he was able to power a header past Irwin to give the Earthquakes the lead and keep them in the playoff hunt.
San Jose now has to take on the Galaxy and FC Dallas to close out the season. While Colorado has a home-and-home with another team looking to usurp their playoff spot, the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Here are the match highlights: