Nine-man San Jose Earthquakes will themselves to improbable victory

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- To snap a winless streak that had lasted more than two months, the San Jose Earthquakes crafted what might be their most improbable victory in more than three years.

Despite losing Anibal Godoy late in the first half and Alberto Quintero early in the second, the nine-man Quakes rode Simon Dawkins’ knuckling goal in the 70th minute to a 2-1 victory against Toronto FC on Saturday.

It was San Jose’s first league triumph since May 11, and matched (if not exceeded) the longshot odds of the Quakes’ 3-2 win against LA on June 29, 2013, when Shea Salinas and Alan Gordon tallied in injury time at Stanford Stadium to pull things out while down a man.

“We needed the win,” Dawkins said after scoring just his second goal since returning to San Jose this year. “You could see what it meant to us at the end of the game. I don’t think you’ve seen a team any happier than today.”

After a seven-match stretch with only four points to show for their efforts, the result could be spun as a bit of payback for the Quakes, who were bossing the game before Godoy’s ejection -- including a nice build up to Quincy Amarikwa’s opener in the 30th minute.

“It’s definitely not something that I was really expecting,” team captain Chris Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com. “I was hoping to just keep it tied, get a point out of it. . . . We’re definitely hoping this can be a catalyst. We need a little bit of that. I feel like we’ve played well in different games but haven’t necessarily gotten the results that we’ve wanted.”

Said Dawkins: “We definitely need to turn the corner. Hopefully this is the game where we can show everybody what we can do.”

After a turnover in the Quakes’ defensive third came to the feet of Cordell Cato, the Trinidadian international pushed forward against all odds, picking up Dawkins in a 2-on-4 break. Cato threaded a pass along the left wing to Dawkins, who cut in from the edge of the penalty area, eluded the grabbing hand of Toronto right back Steven Beitashour and finally lined up a right-footed shot from 24 yards out.

It wasn’t clear if the outstretched foot of Josh Williams brushed the ball in flight; whatever the case, instead of curling in, the strike knuckled and tailed away slightly to the far post, appearing to catch 22-year-old goalkeeper Alex Bono off guard. Bono, playing in place of injured starter Clint Irwin, could only wave futilely at the ball with his left hand.

“That may be the loudest I’ve heard this place,” Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear said. “I think it really made the fans go from being mad [about the red cards] to being really hopeful. You could feel the sense of the stadium and everybody changed by Simon’s goal.”

From there, it was all a matter of defending for dear life. Every cross nabbed or save made by goalkeeper David Bingham drew rapturous applause. So too did every thundering clearance from defenders Victor Bernardez and Jordan Stewart, who was making just his second start of the season in his return from an Achilles tear.

“The second half seemed to last about six hours, especially after Alberto got sent off,” Kinnear said. “You’re just willing them to win. And I think the thing was, they were willing themselves to win, which is even better.”