SANTA CLARA, Calif. – There was no champagne on hand when the San Jose Earthquakes returned to their locker room Saturday night.
Nevertheless, had you been witness to San Jose’s celebration after a 2-0 victory against the Chicago Fire, you could be forgiven for thinking the Quakes had just captured a third MLS Cup championship, rather than breaking a team-record 13-match winless streak.
“It’s unbelievable,” Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch said. “You would have thought that we’d won everything in there. ... We’ve been going through hell for the last whatever, 12 games. It’s nice to finally get on the other side.”
San Jose (6-10-11) are still a long way from title contention, but in one sense, Busch was right: If the Quakes hadn’t won Saturday against the Fire (4-8-15), the rest of 2011 would have been spent getting ready for 2012.
Instead, San Jose now have a chance to put themselves legitimately back in the playoff race, if they can win Saturday in Houston. The Dynamo currently hold ninth place in the MLS standings, six points ahead of the Quakes, but San Jose have a game in hand on Houston.
“Am I allowed to smile?” Quakes coach Frank Yallop joked when he met with reporters Saturday. “Relief, I think the word would be.”
As defender Bobby Burling put it: “It’s good to hear people [in the media] say ‘Congratulations.’ It’s been a while. Getting over that hump and being able to breathe again, we finally put together 90 minutes.”
While San Jose went nearly three months between victories, Yallop kept telling his players not to lose the faith, that they were playing well enough to win even though they’d gone 0-6-7 since June 11.
“I don’t think they [lost faith], to be honest,” Yallop said. “I think they’ve given me everything they’ve got. Our coaching staff, everything we’ve asked them to do they’ve done and tried to do. All the hard work they’ve put in over the last six or seven games has paid off.”
With back-to-back games against Houston and Portland – another team in the thick of the chase for the final playoff spot – San Jose have a chance to make their long drought irrelevant.
“As a coach and a team, I don’t really look at runs,” Yallop said. “I just look at performances, and I think we’ve performed very well the last six games. ... We can now go to Houston with a real fresh attitude that we can win that game. If we get a win there, we’re right back in it.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.