The San Jose Earthquakes needed a miracle, and goalkeeper Joe Cannon was prepared to deliver. With his team trailing FC Dallas 2-1 in second-half stoppage time, the Quakes netminder ventured into the FCD penalty area. And when the corner kick caromed towards his head, it almost looked like the longest of long shots would pay off.
"I closed my eyes and just prayed," said Cannon.
Those prayers weren't answered. A combination of Dario Sala's hand and Jair Benitez's head prevented Cannon's header from reaching goal, and instead of being the victim of a wonder strike, FCD was able to walk away with a victory that kept their playoff dreams alive. San Jose, meanwhile, saw their hopes extinguished for good.
Dallas forward Jeff Cunningham continued his hot streak, assisting on David Ferreira's 49th-minute opener, and scoring the game-winner eight minutes from time when some slick passing from Ferreira and Dax McCarty allowed him to practically walk the ball into the net.
The Quakes got a goal from rookie Quincy Amarikwa in the 73rd minute, but a San Jose side facing a severe numbers crunch couldn't quite deliver a result in what was their 2009 home finale.
All told the Quakes were missing six players due to either injury or international commitments. And while the players were loath to use that as an excuse, manager Frank Yallop felt it definitely played a factor in the team's performance.
"I'm disappointed with the result," said San Jose manager Frank Yallop. "I felt we should have at least tied the game, to be honest. We had chances, but we didn't play very well.
"A few guys hadn't played in a while in our team, and it kind of showed. I thought we looked dangerous from set plays but I thought our general play, especially in the final third was poor tonight."
The lack of chemistry was especially evident at the beginning of each half. In the opening 10 minutes, Dallas sliced through the Quakes defense with relative ease, with Cunningham spurning two good opportunities. When San Jose did have the ball they struggled to keep it, and found themselves on the back foot as a result.
But the Quakes regrouped, and had two good chances to go ahead just before halftime. Unfortunately, both Shea Salinas and Chris Wondolowski hit shots that went straight at FCD 'keeper Dario Sala, and instead of taking the lead, the half finished on level terms.
The start of the second half then saw the home side revert to their early form, and Ferreira put the visitors ahead following a deft, one-touch feed from Cunningham in the 49th minute.
After Sala denied Antonio Ribeiro with his best save of the night, Yallop brought on Amarikwa in the 61st minute. The substitution soon paid off, as the rookie scored his first goal of the season after being released by Salinas.
"[Salinas] played a beautiful ball through and I kind of slowed up to see if Ryan was going to be able to get into the box," said Amarikwa. "That didn't look like it was going to happen so I tried to get the 'keeper to lean and dive on the ground thinking I'd slot it under him, but then I chipped it over him."
Yet Dallas was to have the last word, and once again, they passed their way through the heart of the San Jose defense. Ferreira released McCarty on a clear breakaway, but with Cannon out to challenge, the FCD midfielder squared the ball for Cunningham who scored with the simplest of finishes for his league-leading 17th goal.
"We need to either chop [McCarty] down or step the line up, and neither happened," said defender Bobby Burling. "We hung Joe out to dry. There was nothing he could do ... I don't think it was guys in new spots. It was just a total defensive breakdown."
It was left to Cannon to try and don the hero's cape, but instead the Quakes were forced to swallow their fifth defeat at home this season.
"We created enough chances to win," said Cannon. "What can you say? We shouldn't be losing at home no matter who is on the field."
Now the Quakes will have to endure an entire offseason until they can rectify that situation.
Jeff Carlisle is a contributor to MLSnet.com.