San Jose Earthquakes playoff-clinching celebration

In so many ways, 2020 is a year like none other. From COVID-19, to the US presidential election, to the fight against social injustice, to wildfires and the impact all of that has had on a most unique Major League Soccer season.

It’s been a year of chaos, and in MLS, the San Jose Earthquakes are the year's living embodiment, according to Chris Wondolowski.

“We joke, and I say this facetiously, that our team is made for 2020, 2020 is crazy. We’re mayhem. That’s what our team is made for,” Wondolowski said after the Quakes clinched a berth in the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs Wednesday night following a 3-2 win over LAFC. “It’s why we love it. I wish we could be a little bit sharper and didn’t have to endure all the valleys. I love how high the mountains are. We have to make sure our valleys aren’t too low and stay more even keeled, but our team is made for 2020.”

Wondo’s statement is more than just a cool soundbite. It also speaks to the wild rollercoaster ride the 2020 season has been for his squad. It started with high hopes in Matias Almeyda’s second season in charge. But the Quakes limped out of the gate, a heavy home defeat to Minnesota United in Week 2 leaving a lingering bad taste heading into the stoppage of play due to the global pandemic, and a loss that would be a harbinger of things to come when the season restarted. 

When play resumed at the MLS is Back Tournament, San Jose enjoyed some of their best moments of the season. A tight-knit team quarantined together in Orlando opened eyes with a wild come-from-behind win over the Vancouver Whitecaps and a magical march to the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The valleys came when the regular season resumed a month later. With raging wildfires limiting San Jose’s ability to fully train, the Quakes went eight matches without a win, leaking goals at an alarming rate.

In late September, San Jose looked more likely to finish last than make a playoff run.

Yet make a run they did. It started with a last-minute win over LAFC, followed with more late drama in a Cali Clasico win over the LA Galaxy as part of a three-match winning streak.

Highlights: San Jose Earthquakes 3, LAFC 2

San Jose would lose just twice in their last nine games and that never-say-die mentality was on display Wednesday night in their playoff-clinching win. They were down a goal and then down a man, but took the lead on Wondolowski’s 166th career goal and clinched their first postseason berth since 2017 on Cristian Espinoza’s 72nd-minute goal.

“I’ve gone through very good and bad times in my life and in my football career. I’ve built my career as a coach with this same mentality [to never give up]. I treat the players in a humane way deservingly so and I never focus on a single result, which is why we got back up,” Almeyda said. “I’ve transmitted this mindset to the players and make them see that this is how I live football. But more importantly, how I live life; respecting, accepting, recognizing, while still working. And I believe in hard work. The players have understood my way of thinking along with the coaching staff now. If we were a man down against this team [LAFC] a year ago, surely our confidence would have been impacted and we would have probably conceded multiple goals. I've enforced that football is about being a family … within my dictionary, giving up does not exist.”

And now, this wild, unpredictable season in a wild, unpredictable year continues in the playoffs.

“For certain moments in Orlando, I had hope. We really stayed calm, careful, and we kept faith in our difficult moments. But we doubled down on our bet and corrected things,” Almeyda said. "When the players began to regain their confidence, I knew there was a possibility to come back. I told the players that today was an important date for me, in which I write down in my notebook of victories; despite what happens beyond playoffs. It was not easy to pick up what had [previously] fallen. So, I am very happy and very thankful.”