SAN JOSE, Calif. – The stars over the South Bay on Saturday night could not have aligned finer for Chris Leitch and co.
Despite failing to accumulate many points on the road, which Leitch described as “the elephant in the room,” the San Jose Earthquakes regained substantial playoff ground after a pragmatic, yet effective performance in a historical-heavy game. The one-goal victory over the Houston Dynamo propelled them two spots above the redline in the Western Conference’s tug of war for playoffs.
“I think it’s really important; not just the game but the result,” Leitch said after his side upped their playoff probabilities from a mere 32 percent to a more favorable 49 percent. “I could tell this team wanted this tonight and they want to build this. I didn’t have to say a whole lot. I could feel it when the boys came in today – it was going to be less about [formations and specific player tactics].”
“For me, it was going to be what I saw today shine, which is the spirit of this team,” Leitch added. “No matter who the coach is or what the formation we put them out in, this group is determined and dead-set on their goals, and that’s what I’m probably most excited about seeing tonight.”
It is no secret that all three points were a must for the Quakes to stay afloat around FC Dallas, the Dynamo and Real Salt Lake. But, as in other instances this season, there was an added factor, an emotional basis to seal all three points: a record night for the Black and Blue’s captain and talisman Chris Wondolowski.
“This one really sneaks up on you,” Wondowlowski said moments after his record-breaking 251st appearance for the Quakes. “I saw my first appearance when I came on, I remember that like it was yesterday.
“It’s crazy to think that there is 250 in between there; I remember each one pretty vividly. You tell me the game; I’ll tell you what happened. It’s pretty crazy to think about that.
“I remember coming on against Chivas [USA]. I did not touch the ball. I came close to a throw-in and I came running on. I thought it was the coolest thing to be able to put my jersey in the dirty clothes [bin] after the game. It was a cool thing.”
Moving forward into their last five games of the season, the Quakes are going to need every ounce and inch of their no. 8. The forward has crossed off every box off the list besides the playoff appearance he and the club have been keen on for the stretch of the season.
Ending that five-year curse is still a work in progress, but like the records that back his name, playoffs with Wondolowski around will add another layer.
“You can’t even talk about how important he is,” coach Leitch said on Wondolowski’s accomplishment. “He’s so important in so many ways. He’s a leader in every sense of the way. I’ve said it a million times: when your best player and your captain is also the guy who works the hardest and stays the longest in training and continues to make the extra defensive run time after time as you saw tonight, as well as have the quality he does, you can’t ask for much more.
“That’s a pretty humongous record that he broke this evening,” he added. “Couldn’t happen to a more fitting guy. That’s why he has the record; he’s the most fit to have that record.”