SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The San Jose Earthquakes got into the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League field on the strength of their Supporters’ Shield-winning campaign in MLS last year.
On Tuesday night, they finally recaptured some of the dominance that 2012 edition routinely enjoyed.
For only the second time in 33 matches across all competitions this year, San Jose tallied three goals en route to a 3-0 victory over the Montreal Impact at Buck Shaw Stadium.
The outburst from Chris Wondolowski, Marvin Chávez and Shea Salinas couldn’t have come at a better time for San Jose, as it kept alive their hopes of advancing to the CCL’s knockout stages after the Quakes opened Group 5 with a pair of 1-0 road losses.
“We knew we had to blow open one of these games to give ourselves a chance,” said Quakes goalkeeper David Bingham, who made three saves to help cement the clean sheet.
The victory and San Jose’s leap forward in goal differential leave open the possibility of San Jose controlling their own path, assuming Heredia – who need only one road point in two matches – stumble.
If Montreal can beat Heredia next week, the Quakes will be in the driver’s seat to go through with a victory of their own against the Guatemalans when group play wraps up Oct. 23 at Buck Shaw Stadium. The Impact, meanwhile, must score at least six goals against Heredia to have any chance of surviving.
“We’re late in the season,” Wondolowski said. “We’ve backed ourselves into a corner and one thing’s for sure – we’re going to come out swinging, do everything we can to claw and scratch our way into the next round in CONCACAF, into the [MLS] playoffs, whatever we can do. We’re going to try to get every point possible.”
Wondolowski staggered the Impact with his 21st-minute opener, but the visitors recovered to close out the half strongly, generating some of their best chances of the night in a 15-minute stretch that Quakes midfielder Rafael Baca would later term “a lapse.”
The second half was the polar opposite, as San Jose went for the jugular vein they’ve so often missed this year.
“We can’t just go in crazy and try to score a lot of goals right away,” Chávez said. “We have to play correctly, the right way, and the goals will come. And tonight, thank God, the goals came and we were able to get a big result.”
It was a style that harkened back to last year’s glory days. San Jose scored at least three goals in nearly a third of their 2012 league matches – 11 of 34 – and often ran away with games as trailing opponents tried to get back on even terms.
“We defended well, they started taking a few chances going forward and we punished them,” Quakes interim head coach Mark Watson said. “And that’s ultimately what you have to do when teams are starting to throw numbers forward to score. You have to punish them on the counterattack, and we did that tonight.”
Montreal seemed most flustered by San Jose’s pressure deep in the Impact’s third. Both the Quakes’ second-half goals, from Chávez and Salinas, came after each player intercepted a poor clearance by the harried Montreal defense. Chávez sizzled a ball in from just outside the penalty box, while Salinas was still inside the area when he gained possession.
“Sometimes a clearance goes inches away from us, sometimes it goes right to us,” Wondolowski said. “It’s just one of those things. We were definitely looking to hem them in that area, and luckily the ball fell to us and we had two great finishes by Marvin and Shea.”
Salinas credited Baca’s work at marshaling the Quakes’ midfield to maintain a high line.
“Last year, we were really good at winning the ball in good spots, so our attacks started much further up on the field,” Salinas said. “This year, we haven’t really done that. Our attack’s been starting from the back. And you’re not going to score as many goals when you’ve got to go further [up the field].”