SAN JOSE - In the midst of one of their more uninspired performances at Spartan Stadium and just 30 minutes away from their first home loss of the season, the San Jose Earthquakes needed a boost. Eddie Robinson complied by taking one for the team.
Just more than a minute after FC Dallas midfielder Ramon Nunez converted a penalty kick to give his team a 1-0 lead in the 58th minute, Robinson got into an altercation with FCD midfielder Carey Talley, resulting in the ejection of both players by referee Mark Geiger.
"We're trying to clinch and they're trying to keep us from clinching," Robinson said after the game. "Tempers flared a little bit and unfortunately, things got out of hand."
Following an opening 60 minutes which saw the Earthquakes muster just one shot on goal, they dominated the rest of the way, gaining a 1-1 tie on the strength of a Brian Ching goal in the 68th minute to clinch the top seed in the Western Conference and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
"The spark definitely helped," said midfielder Dwayne De Rosario. "We didn't want Eddie to be tossed from the game, but after that the game changed. We got more aggressive toward their goal."
With the newfound energy, San Jose got the equalizer on a hustle play in the Dallas penalty area. Midfielder Ricardo Clark let loose with a long shot that deflected off FC Dallas defender Steve Jolley and trickled off to the right side of the area to Brian Mullan.
The speedy right winger drove a cross that goalkeeper Scott Garlick could only get a hand to, sending the ball spilling toward the far post. Dallas defender Drew Moor whiffed on the clearance, leaving the ball for Ching.
"I found myself on the ground, saw the ball in front of me and just swiped at it," said Ching.
As a result, Ching was able to tuck the ball into the left corner to bring the Earthquakes level. With just one game remaining at Spartan Stadium, San Jose is in prime position to become the first team in MLS history to go through the entire regular season without a loss at home.
"We know the playoffs have to come through Spartan Stadium, which is good for us," said San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear. "We're obviously pleased to clinch home-field advantage for the playoffs. It's a happy locker room."
Things weren't looking that way early on, as the Hoops established themselves as the aggressors in the first half. With a surprise lineup that featured only four regular starters, FC Dallas was able put the Earthquakes on their heels in the first half, generating the vast majority of the scoring opportunities.
"We came out a little flat," said midfielder Mark Chung. "We weren't on our game tonight."
Once again, however, the Earthquakes managed to squeeze out a result when they were not at their best. Perhaps the altercation increased the team's energy level, but it also removed Talley from a crowded FC Dallas midfield, one that up to that point had been able to neutralize De Rosario, San Jose's top attacker.
"It was a combination of a lot of things," said De Rosario, referring to the swing of momentum after the fight. "We started out the first half a little slower than usual. We could have used the width more instead of forcing it down the middle."
Added center back Danny Califf: "We knew we weren't playing well. Tonight, there probably needed to be something to spark us. We wish it wasn't a sending off, but it was a bit of a wakeup call for us."
Danny Kadah is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.