SAN JOSE, Calif. – With five matches left compared to four or even three for many of their Western Conference counterparts, there are still mathematical possibilities for the San Jose Earthquakes to get into the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Still, there was no denying the devastating impact of the Quakes’ 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night. With visions of Kevin Ellis’ 81st-minute game-winner still fresh in their minds, San Jose faced the hard truth that jumping up from ninth place into the top six – games in hand or no – is a chance that’s getting slimmer by the week.
Riding out a winless five-match stretch at home and six matches overall without a victory, San Jose (7-9-13, 34pts) now sit seven points behind sixth-place Portland (11-12-8, 41pts) and nine back of fifth-place SKC (12-12-7, 43pts) in their quest to get back into the postseason for the first time since 2012.
“It’s killer, to be honest with you,” Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear told reporters after San Jose’s first home loss to Sporting in more than 16 years. “We’ve got to put together a run of wins that we haven’t done this year. So it’s going to take a monumental effort. It’s a pretty crushing result tonight.”
SKC stole away with the victory despite putting just two shots on net – both of which eluded San Jose goalkeeper David Bingham.
“It’s not fun,” San Jose midfielder Fatai Alashe said. “Credit to the team, we fought pretty hard for 90 minutes. ... Sometimes things aren’t going to go your way. That’s kind of been the way things have fallen for us so far this year.”
The Quakes, last in MLS in scoring with 28 goals in 29 matches, nearly put one home inside 20 seconds. But Quincy Amarikwa’s lunging, right-footed reach for Jordan Stewart’s cross fell fractionally short, and the forward landed in such a way that his left knee buckled on impact. The 28-year-old, who had just returned to the lineup, had to be stretchered off and is due for further examination on Monday, Kinnear said.
The situation grew exponentially worse when Dom Dwyer scored with a well-placed open header from six yards in the seventh minute, but the Quakes responded thanks in part to Amarikwa’s replacement, Henok Goitom.
Goitom’s back heel – after a whiffed clearance by SKC center back Nuno Coehlo – set up Simon Dawkins for an equalizer in the 42nd minute. And San Jose looked as though they could nudge in front after intermission when Chris Wondolowski (46th minute) and Alberto Quintero (60th) forced big saves from Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia.
But then SKC earned their only corner kick of the match, one that turned into Ellis’ first MLS goal of 2016. Winning out, beginning Wednesday in Montreal, is now almost a prerequisite if the Quakes want to play something other than golf come November.
“It was always going to be tough, before this game even started,” Alashe said. “Obviously, things are going to be tough, as far the playoffs go, but I think there shouldn’t be a let-off in our team. I think everybody is going to continue to fight.”