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Full steam ahead for Earthquakes

The 2-1 win for the San Jose Earthquakes against Chivas USA on Saturday at The Home Depot Center was a good example of the gritty style that has carried the club to the best record in Major League Soccer.

Things looked bleak for the Earthquakes as they trailed Chivas by a goal with less than 10 minutes to play.

However, in the 81st minute, Danny Califf slipped through the Chivas defense to head in a pass from Eddie Robinson, tying the game at 1-1.

Whereas most teams would be content with stealing a point on the road, the Earthquakes had one thought on their mind: winning.

In the third minute of stoppage time, that drive paid off as Alejandro Moreno scored from five yards out on a diving header, giving the Earthquakes their fourth consecutive victory and 15th on the season.

"I give all the credit to the players," said Earthquakes coach Dominic Kinnear. "I just told them to play all 90 minutes. You have to give yourself a chance to win the game.

"You can't fault these guys -- they try to win games every single Saturday and we've been rewarded for it."

Heading into the season, the Earthquakes' one objective was to earn a spot in the playoffs. Sitting atop the Western Conference with 53 points -- 14 points clear of the second place Los Angeles Galaxy -- with four matches left has been a welcome surprise.

"I think we've exceeded expectations," said Kinnear. "However, when we have everyone healthy, we have very high expectations and we do expect to win games on the road."

The scrappy win against Chivas was their second against the struggling expansion side in consecutive matches. Last week, the Earthquakes handily beat Chivas 3-0 at home in a physical match that set the tone for Saturday's meeting.

The tough play from that match spilled over as 41 fouls were whistled and three yellow cards were handed out Saturday by referee Gus St. Silva.

"It was a sloppy game in the first half," said Kinnear. "There wasn't too much buildup play, just one team would attack and then the other would attack.

"We had a bunch of chances to score but [Brad] Guzan made some good saves and we missed the target a couple of times but I always felt that we were going to get a goal."

That first goal didn't come until nine minutes from time as Califf headed in a ball off a corner kick. Califf paid for the goal, though, as he was struck on the head on the attempt by Chivas defender Ezra Hendrickson and lay inside the Chivas goal for more than a minute after the score.

Team officials said that Califf suffered a minor concussion on the play, although he re-entered the match and played until the final whistle.

"After (Califf's goal) I told the guys that we have to shore it up in the back and if they give us a chance to get going, let's get going forward," said Kinnear. "That's how we've played all year."

That advice paid off just moments before the final whistle when Moreno broke free inside the penalty area and buried a ball off a diving header.

"I was just trying to peel away from the center," said Moreno. "I just kind of backed off and peeled away to the far post and Brian Mullan sent a great ball and I was able to get the header in."

Like Kinnear, Moreno pointed to the team's winning mentality as their ultimate motivator.

"In the end we found a way to keep fighting and we took advantage of the opportunities we had and we got a good result," he said.

Added Kinnear: "I don't think we played our best game tonight. The effort was there but obviously guys can't play brilliant every week. However, we're always playing for three points. The guys push each other for that -- they're a proud group."

Danny Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.