If the San Jose Earthquakes were sending a message in what was widely regarded as a “statement game” against Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday, the topic was undoubtedly perfection.
With a 2-1 victory over Seattle in front of a packed house at CenturyLink Field, the Quakes all but clinched home-field advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake (both 15-11-4) sit 11 points back of the Quakes (18-6-6) with 12 possible points remaining. Seattle (13-7-9) are 12 points down with 15 still available.
“It was a big game for both clubs, I thought,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “At the end, Seattle put us in a lot of pressure, and it was great that we might have bent a little bit, but we didn’t break. I think that was important, to see the game out.”
Perhaps even better -- at least, from a psychological perspective -- San Jose improved to 8-0-0 this season against those clubs battling it out for the Nos. 2 through 4 seeds in the West. San Jose beat Seattle and RSL three times and are 2-for-2 against LA with one meeting left, at Buck Shaw Stadium on Oct. 21.
“It means we know that we have a lot of work still ahead of us, because as hard as it is to beat a team three times, it’s going to be even harder to beat them four or five times,” said Chris Wondolowski, whose 30th-minute tally held up for the full three points.
“A lot of these games come down to battling and working for a full 90 minutes," the forward continued. "That’s what we need to continue to try to do, is try to work as hard as possible for the full 90 minutes. If we get goals in the first minute or the 90th minute, we’ll still keep working.”
San Jose used that grind-it-out mentality Saturday to deliver their third one-goal win against Seattle this year.
“We got the rub of the green, if you like, in those games,” Yallop explained, “but what I like to say is, we didn’t deserve to lose the games, and we were lucky enough to come out with the victories.”
While the adage tells us it’s better to be lucky than good, San Jose were both Saturday. Simon Dawkins cut loose with a crackling goal in just the second minute, and Wondolowski wiped out Steve Zakuani’s 14th-minute equalizer via a nifty goal-mouth redirection of Victor Bernardez’s low cross.
Wondolowski’s 22nd goal of 2012 also was his 10th game-winner of the season, giving him sole ownership of that MLS single-season record.
“I do take pride in having goals that mean something, which are game-winners, so that means a lot,” Wondolowski said.
The goal was Wondolowski’s third in four days, following his brace off the bench against Portland on Wednesday.
“He’s off again,” Yallop said. “He’s at 22 and I expect more goals from him. He loves being in the right spots, and he usually gets something on the ball.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.