SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Snatching a draw from the jaws of defeat.
It doesn’t exactly roll right off the tongue, but come October, if the Earthquakes are playing postseason soccer, they may look back to Wednesday night’s game against Columbus as a big, big turning point.
A tired Quakes unit was 11 minutes away from a second straight home loss and probably having to answer questions about whether their remarkable 5-2-1 start was for real. Columbus pulled ahead late on Chad Marshall’s header in the 69th minute, and it appeared the Eastern Conference leaders were poised to avenge their first loss of the season last weekend.
But then the Quakes showed why they’re a different team now than the doormat they’ve been for the last two seasons. They kept pushing and finally found the equalizer through – who else? – the very symbol of their turnaround. Chris Wondolowski headed in his sixth goal of the year in the 79th to snatch a 2-2 draw for San Jose.
“My eyes were pretty big,” said Wondolowski of the ball heading his way in the goalmouth. “I’m sure the people in the crowd could see how big [my eyes] were.”
On the fixture list, it was still just a draw. But it was also a draw against one of the best teams in the league, one that was highly motivated for a rebound of its own. And the Quakes responded with aplomb.
“We would have lost that last year, definitely,” said head coach Frank Yallop. “They’d have beat us 3-2, 2-1. But the team doesn’t want to lose.”
The difference in San Jose this season is palpable: They don’t put their heads down after a loss and they believe they’ve got the ability to pull out results. That’s led to some hard-fought points so far this season, like a crusher over New York or a tight 1-0 win in Seattle. That mentality is what proves they’re maturing every game.
Even this past weekend, when Toronto came into Buck Shaw and ran out 3-1 winners, the Quakes looked around the locker room and knew they could do better. They didn’t get the win Wednesday night against Columbus, but fighting back against a motivated opponent – who dominated stretches of the game – and earning a point says an awful lot about their character.
“That’s a huge point for us,” said goalkeeper Joe Cannon. “[Columbus are] a really good team; give them a lot of credit. I can’t say enough about the fight that our guys brought. We easily could have dropped our heads like we did the other night [against Toronto].”
Of course, October is a long, long way away. But as we’ve seen in recent years, mere points make the difference in making the playoffs or watching them on TV. And the Quakes are still very much a work in progress in their transformation into a contender.
“We have a lot of veterans on this team,” said Wondolowski. “But that being said, we have a lot to learn. We try to learn each week from our mistakes and our positives.”
When the Quakes look back at their season, they know this was a game that could be a difference-maker. They’re not playing terrific soccer right now, but you don’t have the same old Quakes to push around anymore.