Faced with the ominous prospect of letting yet another late lead slip away at home, the San Jose Earthquakes turned to their goalkeeper. Pat Onstad responded with the team's biggest play of the young season, stopping a second-half Josh Wolff penalty kick to help the Earthquakes hold off the Kansas City Wizards 3-2 on Saturday night at Spartan Stadium.
"You count on your goalie to make one big save a game and that was definitely a big save," said midfielder Brian Mullan. "Pat is the best goalie I've ever played with - unfortunately, he hasn't had much help early in the season."
With the win, San Jose broke its three-match winless streak to start the season. In each game, the Earthquakes conceded late goals, turning two potential victories into draws and a likely draw into a loss last Saturday night at Chicago.
So when Wolff lined up for the spot kick - just three minutes after Dwayne DeRosario gave San Jose the lead with a terrific goal from 25 yards out that kissed the left post - the Quakes could have been forgiven for thinking, "Here we go again."
But Onstad came through, lunging to deflect Wolff's 60th-minute shot off the crossbar, allowing his teammates to clear the danger.
"It obviously changed the game for us," said captain Wade Barrett. "Pat made a big play. Everybody got energy from that."
In the final half hour, San Jose did not allow Kansas City any serious chances in seeing out the victory. Substitutes Alejandro Moreno (80th minute) and Ricardo Clark (86th minute) did a good job in limited playing time to help the club hold on.
"It's hard to come into a game that intense in the last few minutes, but those guys did a great job," said Barrett. "We did all the correct things that we haven't done in the first three games. We've also been a little bit unlucky, but today we were striving for that balance between attacking and defending at the end of the game."
Given the results of the San Jose's first three matches, it is no surprise that the team paid a lot of attention to holding onto late leads this week in training.
"We've talked about it enough, so everybody knew what to do" said head coach Dominic Kinnear. "I think our athletic trainer Bruce (Morgan) could hand out information on how to close out a game now."
Although the season is only four matches old, this game took on added significance for a team that has had a nightmare start to the campaign.
"It's really important from a mental standpoint," said forward Brian Ching, who scored his third goal of the young season - all on headers from Brad Davis crosses. "We have a young team, so not winning in the first three games and being so close really had a negative effect on us. But I think we brought the right attitude tonight and I think it's really going to lift the confidence of this team."
"This gets the ball rolling for us," added Mullan. "Our confidence has been down, but we have been a good offensive team. If we can just continue to eliminate the unlucky breaks, we're going to be good."
Danny Kadah is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.