SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Depending on whom you ask, the playoffs are either getting further away from the San Jose Earthquakes, or closer.
On Sunday night, they were headed toward the latter before it looked like the result might be the former. Shea Salinas scored in the 15th minute against the Philadelphia Union, then the Quakes wasted a handful of scoring chances and nearly regretted it after going down a man with more than half an hour to play.
But in the end, they survived a late Union barrage and grabbed the three points in a 1-0 win. Their playoff hopes aren’t overwhelmingly positive, but they are indeed very much alive after one of their harder-fought results of the season.
“I would like an easier 3-0 victory with no issues at the end,” interim head coach Mark Watson laughed to reporters postgame. “We’ve been in a playoff situation for a while. We’ve had so many games where we really needed the points to stay close enough to the pack. I think our guys have embraced that mentality and I’ve been really proud of them.”
Watson was especially proud of how his team hung on for the victory on Sunday. After dominating possession and the scoring opportunities for the first two-thirds of the game, the momentum went back Philadelphia’s way after Rafael Baca was sent off after receiving his second yellow card in the 57th minute.
San Jose dealt well with the pressure at first, and cautiously continued to press. But in the late going, the Union stole a page out of the Goonie handbook, pushing their big bodies into the box and lumping in crosses in the hopes they could bundle in an equalizer.
It was the expected dramatic finale, explained Jon Busch, who had to make a number of key saves in the closing minutes. And with the stakes so high, he wasn’t surprised the Quakes’ dam held.
“We knew the importance of it and being at home, we needed the three points at home,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “Everybody dug in, and ... everybody kept working. Nobody bitched, nobody complained, we just got on with it.”
San Jose have needed their strong home record this season – they’ve won nine of 14 games in the Bay Area – to offset how poor they’ve been on the road, where they’ve picked up just a single victory in 14. They’ve got an even split between their six remaining regular-season games. And if a close shave of a 1-0 victory is the formula to sneaking into the postseason, so be it.
“Heading down the stretch when games are more difficult and teams are more organized, we’re going to have to get shutouts to win games,” midfielder Sam Cronin told MLSsoccer.com. “There’s no reason to think we can’t keep pushing and not worry about how it looks.”