When the San Jose Earthquakes were in the midst of a nine-game unbeaten streak, it seemed like they were always finding a way to make the little plays matter, be it a decisive pass here, or a timely tackle there.
But after seeing their current winless streak reach four games with a 1-0 home defeat to Chivas USA, what's clear now is that those little things are no longer in the Quakes' favor. And after losing a game that they dominated for long stretches, the playoffs now look to be beyond the expansion side's reach.
"We're disappointed," said Quakes midfielder Darren Huckerby. "We didn't play as well as we can do, but we were the attacking team all the way through the game. It's like a smash-and-grab, really. They started to time-waste just before halftime. It's very frustrating."
Even more maddening for the home side was the manner of the game's only goal. A lightning-quick counterattack in the seventh minute saw Chivas forward Alecko Eskandarian spring teammate Justin Braun on a clear breakaway. The Quakes' appeals for offside were ignored -- correctly as it turned out -- and Braun duly buried his shot past San Jose 'keeper Joe Cannon for the game's only goal.
"It was always going to be a tough game, and giving up the goal we gave up, we made it tougher," said midfielder Ronnie O'Brien. "They're a good side, and we gave them, from our perspective, a terrible breakaway goal."
As the last defender back, it was Garcia's decision to apply the offside trap, and the Quakes defender admitted his culpability on the goal.
"It's a game of mistakes, and for me I felt like [Braun] was offside," said Garcia. "For us, we got punished for it. I take responsibility for the hiccup, and for us to make the playoffs and continue forward we can't have those kinds of mistakes."
It took about 15 more minutes for the home side to right themselves, but once San Jose did they dominated the proceedings, both in terms of territory and chances.
One attacking sequence early in the second half proved crucial. Scott Sealy had his goalbound effort blocked by Claudio Suarez in the 47th minute, and then Francisco Lima had another shot cleared off the line by Alex Zotinca just a minute later. Those proved to be the only shots the Quakes would put on goal the whole night.
"It was just one of those games where we seemed unable to put ... not so much the final pass but the shot on target that would have made a difference in the game," said manager Frank Yallop. "So we've come away with no goals tonight."
With their season basically on the line, the Quakes threw everything into attack, and even went to a 3-4-3 formation in an effort to get more players forward. But no matter how many crosses the home side put in the box, no matter how many shots they unleashed, there was no getting past an organized Chivas defense that defended tenaciously. It left San Jose to rue their early letdown.
"The way I look at it, we played 89 minutes of good football, had good pressure, and we fought as hard as we could," said O'Brien. "That one minute sort of let us down. From the moment we gave up the goal, they just sat in a little bit and we just chased it.
"In one way it's a credit to the team. I think if we had played like that the last week in Dallas and two weeks ago against Salt Lake, we would have run away with both of those games. Tonight, giving up the goal, it just wasn't enough."
And despite playing a credible expansion season in MLS, it now looks like the same will be true of the Quakes' playoff hopes.
Jeff Carlisle is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.