Shea Salinas tries to fill void of Chris Wondolowski for San Jose Earthquakes ... and nearly does it

The only item missing from Shea Salinas’ performance in his return to the San Jose Earthquakes lineup was the one thing the Quakes needed most of all Saturday night.

Salinas may not have been able to find the equalizer that San Jose sought for much of what turned out to be a 1-0 loss to D.C. United, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.

Making his first start since May 8 in the absence of stars Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart, Salinas proved to be the Quakes’ most consistently dangerous player, forcing a critical save by United goalkeeper Bill Hamid and setting up Alan Gordon for a potential point-saving shot that flew over the crossbar.

“I thought Shea was great,” Quakes interim coach Mark Watson said. “Shea’s big strength is getting the ball, going at players one-v-one and getting crosses in. ... I thought he did it very well.”

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Salinas started 10 of the Quakes’ first 11 matches but eventually fell out of favor with then-coach Frank Yallop. He made three appearances for Yallop and Watson in the five matches leading up to Saturday’s game, totaling 62 minutes.

With Wondolowski sidelined by right foot contusion and Lenhart out due to right knee inflammation, Watson had little choice but to call on Salinas, who quickly became an integral part of the Quakes’ attack as they tried to make up for an early penalty — which Watson termed “somewhat dubious” — conceded by Justin Morrow. Chris Pontius converted in the 11th minute to give D.C. a lead that wouldn’t be overturned.

It was the first time this season the Quakes were having to make do without Wondolowski, although it might not be the last. In addition to the bruised foot, Wondolowski was named last month to the US national team’s provisional Gold Cup roster, which would mean even more absences for the reigning MLS MVP if he makes Jurgen Klinsmann’s cut.

“Having Wondolowski gone is a huge loss for us ... but we’ve got a pretty deep bench,” Salinas said. “There shouldn’t be a drop in our play. We should come out and try to win games.”

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Salinas almost made that happen by bursting behind D.C.’s defense in the 61st minute, chesting down a long pass from Sam Cronin and delivering a volley that required a leaping stab by Hamid. And Salinas cut back against the grain from the left wing in the 86th minute before dropping his own pass to the edge of D.C.’s six-yard box, where Gordon’s redirection attempt went just high.

Not that those plays were enough to wash away the bitter taste of losing to a United side which came in riding a franchise-record 13-match winless streak.

“It’s tough to be happy with an individual performance [in defeat], because we’re a team and we want to win games,” Salinas said. “As a team, I thought we fought hard. In the second half, we were putting passes together, being dangerous. We just couldn’t score. It was really frustrating not to come away with a point, at least.”