By AVI CREDITOR
WASHINGTON – Chris Wondolowski's season has been all about cashing in on opportunities, something that was quite evident in perhaps the most important victory for the San Jose Earthquakes since the franchise's rebirth in 2008.
Wondolowski tallied goals in the 45th and 55th minutes on one-timers off opportunistic bounces, lifting the Earthquakes to a 2-0 result over D.C. United in front of 14,822 at RFK Stadium Saturday night.
The victory, coupled with Kansas City's 2-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders, clinched a spot in the postseason for the Earthquakes for the first time since their re-inception to Major League Soccer.
"That's been our goal from the start," Wondolowski said. "We know once we make the playoffs anything can happen. We feel like we've started to hit a good stride right now, and we're real excited."
Wondolowski's brace stole the spotlight from an early confrontation between Brandon McDonald and Jaime Moreno that concluded with both men being sent off in the eighth minute.
McDonald said that while the two were jockeying for position during a Troy Perkins goal kick, Moreno leaned his head into McDonald, and the San Jose centerback retaliated in a similar fashion, though the contact by both players was minimal.
Moreno went to the ground holding his head, and referee Alex Prus conferred with his assistant referee and the fourth official before issuing a red card to both players.
"It's stuff that happens every game," said McDonald, who cleared a parried save by Jon Busch off the line in the fifth minute. "I have to be smarter about the situation and know that if I retaliate, that's what the ref normally sees. … It is what it is. It was my actions, and I have to deal with it."
Added Moreno, whose D.C. United career could be shortened to just one game if a potential appeal is unsuccessful: "Basically I was punched, and I pushed him back and he headbutted me. I don't know what the linesman saw, but there is no respect from these people. Nothing. I would like him to show me what I did."
The double ejection appeared to work in D.C.'s favor for the majority of the first half, with San Jose scrambling to replace its key central defender and United able to exploit the open space. D.C. focused its attack on the right side, going at Bobby Convey, who had shifted back from the midfield to provide defensive cover.
"It was kind of a strange start to the game," San Jose coach Frank Yallop said. "We had kind of a makeshift-ish team. I thought D.C. did a good job of exposing us."
Carlos Varela, who occupied the spot on the right normally reserved for Andy Najar (suspended for card accumulation), twice set up plays that threatened Busch's goal. He played Stephen King into position for a 10-yard shot from the right that Busch saved with relative ease in the 19th minute.
Four minutes later, Varela dribbled to the end line and lobbed a cross toward Pablo Hernandez at the goal mouth, but Tim Ward got into position to head the pass off the line.
Although United continued to own the possession advantage throughout the first 45 minutes, San Jose capitalized against the run of play at the end of the half, something that has not been uncommon in D.C.'s snake-bitten season.
Ward sailed a cross from the right through United's penalty area in the 45th minute, and the ball hopped straight over right back Jordan Graye to a waiting, unmarked Wondolowski toward the far end of the box.
San Jose's Most Valuable Player candidate went top shelf with an impressive one-timer to beat Perkins and give the Earthquakes a 1-0 lead.
"It's just good play by the team," Wondolowski said. "We have great guys that serve the ball in. I can make good runs, and I've been able to finish this year. Most of my goals are one-touch, which just shows what good passes they are."
Ten minutes into the second half, Wondolowski was in the right spot again. A San Jose short corner was played to Convey, who sent a cross through the area that Perkins attempted to punch away. The keeper inadvertently deflected it right to Wondowloski, who again finished off his opportunity with a deadly one-timer.
"As a forward or a goal scorer you always try to expect the ball to come to you," Wondolowski said. "You hope and wish and always have to be ready for it, because you never know when it will. You always have to try to be ready and get your feet set."
With 14 goals, including a league-leading eight game-winning goals, Wondolowski trails Los Angeles' Edson Buddle by two for the league's Golden Boot. Quite an impressive feat for a player who was stuck riding the pine behind a long line of attackers back in his Houston Dynamo days.
"Maybe he's matured a little bit, maybe he's found his feet, but he's gotten to play this year, and he's proved that he's pretty good," Yallop said. "It's good for us, and it's good for Chris."
Here are highlights from the match:
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