At 3:32 p.m. PT Sunday, referee Sorin Stoica blew three times on his whistle to signify a merciful end to the San Jose Earthquakes’ season.
It also marked the beginning of the next phase of the Quakes’ work in 2014.
San Jose concluded their regular-season schedule with a 1-0 loss to Chivas USA, the Quakes’ franchise-record 15th straight league match without a victory and a decision that guaranteed a last-place finish in the Western Conference.
“To me, this was a terrible season,” veteran Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch told reporters at the StubHub Center. “It hurt. It hurt a lot that we couldn’t find a way to get out of this and to right the ship. I’ve been around a long time, and usually every team goes through tough times during the season, but you always find ways to get out of it. Unfortunately, this year, we just could not find a way to get out of it. For me, that drove me crazy. It’s going to motivate me -- it should motivate the rest of the guys -- so it never happens again.”
Now, everyone on the team -- players and remaining technical staff -- will wait to see what happens when ex-Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear returns to the club where he won a Supporters’ Shield in 2005, just before the club decamped for Texas.
“I don’t know if it’s a relief, but it’s been a tough year,” interim coach Ian Russell said. “So it’s time to regroup and look forward to next year.”
Kinnear will enter a situation ripe for change after the Quakes, who last won in league play on Aug. 2, wrapped up with yet another disappointing result. With Felix Borja jamming home the rebound of Erick Torres’ shot off the post in the 32nd minute, it was the 21st time San Jose conceded the initial goal in MLS play this year. By contrast, the Quakes opened the scoring just 10 times, constantly digging themselves holes that the league’s second-worst offense was rarely able to overcome.
San Jose eventually forced three saves from Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, but outside of a 68th-minute scramble when Chris Wondolowski bundled the ball into the back of the net -- only to see the play waved off for a foul on Atiba Harris -- the Quakes never looked like they were going to find an equalizer.
And now they have to ruminate on that fact through a long winter in which a roster remodel is expected.
“Was it tough? Yeah, it was tough,” Busch said. “But we’re all professional players. We get paid to win games. We get paid to do our jobs. You want to keep trying to find the right ingredients to change that [winless streak]. Now there’s no more games, no more training, no more anything until next preseason, so now you have to sit with those thoughts for the next two and a half months. And it’s going to be on your mind a long time until you can correct it.”
One sliver of a silver lining for the Quakes arrived in the 62nd minute, when Busch cradled a redirected header from Torres for his third and final save of the match. That pushed his season total to 138 -- a league best and franchise record for the Quakes, besting Joe Cannon’s mark of 137 set in 2000.
“I’d trade every one of those saves for a win,” Busch said. “I’d trade every one of those saves to be in the playoffs and keep playing. That’s the only thing that matters to me, is winning games and having opportunities in the playoffs to win championships.”