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11/23 FINAL
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11/30 9:20pm
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Eastern Conference Championship

Wondo gets headlines, but Hernandez is Quakes' star

This time, the San Jose Earthquakes’ typical late-game heroics were only half the story.

With goals in the 75th and 84th minutes from Alan Gordon and Chris Wondolowski, respectively, the Quakes’ 2-1 road victory against Real Salt Lake on Saturday could be filed as just another entry in San Jose’s ever-growing dossier of fairy-tale endings.

In so many of those earlier matches, however, the Quakes’ standard operating procedure was to chase a game from behind. Facing an angry RSL side that had blown a two-goal lead Wednesday in an eventual 3-2 loss to LA, San Jose’s defense was finally an equal contributor as the Quakes came into Rio Tinto Stadium and wrested away ownership of the Supporters’ Shield lead.

Full Match Highlights

Even though Javier Morales’ world-class strike off a free kick in the 79th minute prevented San Jose (10-3-3) from posting their first shutout in almost three months, the Quakes’ back line took a starring role in keeping things sealed up, allowing Wondo & Co. to work their offensive alchemy.

Justin Morrow, on the dead run, contorted himself to divert Fabian Espindola’s 23rd-minute shot with a goalmouth header. Victor Bernardez’s sliding deflection in the 31st kept Alvaro Saborio from getting a free look from 12 yards out.

Most of all, there was Jason Hernandez, who delivered three goal-saving plays in the second half to highlight one of his best performances in 111 appearances for the Quakes.

“I think Jason played a great game tonight,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “He was in really good spots all night and handling a really good center forward. For me, Saborio is one of the best in the league at what he does, fantastic from 10 yards in, and I think Jason did a terrific job on him, along with Victor. You’ve got to commend those guys for not crumbling. All our guys really put their bodies on the line to get a result.”

No play from Hernandez was more critical than when he nodded Saborio’s looping redirection just over the crossbar in the 71st minute, after the ball had fluttered over the outstretched hand of San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch.

Busch had to come off his line to make a last-ditch kick save on Will Johnson, leaving him trapped in no man’s land when RSL substitute Jonny Steele corralled the rebound and Saborio flicked it gently goalward. But it was practice, not luck, which stationed Hernandez in the right place at the right time.

“In training, I’ve been known to creep in behind [Busch] and try to be that last line of defense [during a scramble in the box],” Hernandez said. “In years past, I’ve had one or two come my way. That’s just natural for me. ... I was just making sure I cleared the bar and hopefully didn’t put it in my own net.”

You didn’t need a high-definition television to catch Hernandez’s mile-wide smile after his save on Saborio, who offered a playful shove in exasperation.

“He was in a bit of disbelief,” Hernandez said. “I smiled at him because Saborio is a very talented striker and he’s scored a lot of goals in this league. ... You don’t get to rob Saborio of a lot of goals.”

Hernandez also kept RSL off the board with a 48th-minute clearance that prevented Kyle Beckerman being presented with a gift-wrapped chance on inside the 6, and again in the 57th when his clean diving tackle dispossessed Johnson on the doorstep.

“I’ve seen him play unbelievably, and I think that ranks right up there with them,” Wondolowski said of Hernandez. “He was on fire. He tracked so many runs. The movement that Salt Lake creates makes it tough to stay with runners. They try to pull you out of position, and I thought he played great.”

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com.