SAN JOSE, Calif. – Much like a late September evening at Avaya Stadium after the San Jose Earthquakes collapsed against the Chicago Fire, there was an abnormal delay to manager Chris Leitch’s appearance in the club’s press conference room on Sunday afternoon.
However, this time around there was a major difference: the concerns weren’t if Leitch was going to address the media at all, it was if his appearance was going to be suitable or, at least, appealing enough for the media following the Quakes celebratory champagne showers in front of thousands of their faithful supporters.
After the bottles turned hollow, with a playoff ticket in hand, after a five-year drought, the rookie manager walked towards the gaggle of reporters with a grin that yelled satisfaction, and only a minor aroma of champagne trailing him.
“There wasn’t any emotion left,” Leitch said on his feelings following the final whistle of their thrilling and historic victory over the Loons. “That was stored inside everything kinda came out with everyone.”
“I think you saw that with the fans as well, but you saw that with these players,” he added. “Pretty darn good celebration and really good feelings in that locker room right now on what was accomplished here tonight.”
The previous 33 games felt like nothing less than a roller coaster with grueling defeats like the one against the Fire, and thrilling victories such as the one in Dallas way back in May. It was going to take a serious splashdown to settle the wild ride once and for all.
When that landing strip came in sight, the Quakes did everything in their power to bring their regular season to a sobering halt.
“This game was an epitome of the season for us in the sense where we’ve had some ultimate highs and some lows where you’re reeling and gut-checked,” Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski said. “It’s a [time to] look in the mirror and see what you’re made of. And the guys showed up.
“We’ve had, legitimately, three or four times this season where we’ve had our backs against the wall, backed into the corner,” Wondolowski added. “I haven’t been proud of being in those situations, but I love the response every time of our guys.”
Following the Quakes 2012 campaign, one that saw the Bay Area side lift the Supporters’ Shield, a plague struck the club. But it wasn’t until Sunday, 25 days after the Black and Blue’s nadir following their 4-1 collapse against the Fire, that Quakes had any concrete reasons to celebrate, bring out the champagne and, yes, even shed tears of joy.
“So much emotion,” Wondolowski told SBI about what ran through his head following Ureña’s stoppage-time goal. “I remember grabbing Marco, I remember falling with him. I was so happy for him.”
“I was thanking him, and he was thanking me,” he added. “I legitimately had tears coming down my eyes, because there was so much emotion.”
Finally, after a half decade and a season filled with plenty of highs and lows, the Quakes are back on solid ground. But despite the highs lifting Wondolowski towards MLS greatness, it was the lows that composed the Quakes’ immortal captain to savor Sunday’s victory more than any record.
“100 percent,” Wondolowski told SBI on how clinching playoffs comes above his records and accolades. “Believe me, playoff appearances, especially for myself, have been few or far between. They accede all records, any accolades I’ve been able to obtain, because that’s what we play for – you play to win, you play for playoffs, you play to win championships.”