SAN JOSE, Calif. -- San Jose Earthquakes captain Chris Wondolowski couldn’t understand why teammate Shea Salinas removed his shirt on the way out of the locker room and was waving it around in the manner of former Quakes forward Alan Gordon during pre-game warm-ups Saturday night.
“What are you doing?” Wondolowski asked.
“I’m celebrating the goal that I’m going to score,” Salinas replied.
At any other time or place, that might have been a silly boast, especially for a player who hadn’t scored a league goal in more than a year.
But this was Stanford Stadium, where the Quakes’ last-second Cali Clasico dreams keep coming true. And so there was Salinas, in the 93rd minute, running onto a pass from Danny Hoesen. He took one touch to set himself up and then fired a blast off the underside off the crossbar to deliver San Jose yet another mind-blowing finish – this time a 2-1 victory against the LA Galaxy in new coach Chris Leitch’s MLS debut.
“It’s the definition of a California Clásico if I’ve ever known one,” Leitch said of his first league victory. “I’ll remember it, that’s for damn sure.”
It was the final payoff for a Quakes team that never lost faith, even after LA captain Jelle Van Damme scored his first career MLS goal - a too-easy volley that put the visitors up barely 10 minutes into the match.
Leitch’s halftime talk didn’t focus on the negatives, but simply played up the good work done by San Jose, who dominated the ball for long stretches. On the evening, the hosts totaled 15 shots to LA’s seven, generated nine corners to the Galaxy’s two and held possession for more than 70 percent of the match.
“We really believed in our game plan and thought if we executed, we could come out and win,” Wondolowski said. “They wanted to defend that goal and took a little bit of a defensive posture. We felt if we could stay the course we could execute our game plan and get three points.”
Even so, it seemed as though the young Galaxy squad – anchored by Van Damme’s tireless defending – were going to be able to bunker their way to a rare victory at Stanford, where they had triumphed only once in five previous attempts.
Then everything changed in the 75th minute when David Bingham dropped a dime with a 70-yard punt that Wondolowski was able to chase down. After putting a spectacular turn on Galaxy midfielder Jaime Villarreal, Wondolowski struck a left-footed shot that took a deflection into the top corner which punctured the Galaxy’s resolve and gave the Quakes a shot of adrenaline.
“Let’s not forget Chris Wondolowski and what this guy does in the biggest moments, without fail,” Leitch said. “It’s really good when your leaders, when your captains, when your best players show up for the biggest games. That’s what I’m proud of.
"He never, never stops amazing our fans.”
That amazement was taken to a new level when Salinas brought down the house with his homage to Gordon, who stripped down in similar fashion after scoring in the 93rd minute to secure a 3-2 victory against LA at Stanford in 2013.
“When Danny plays me the ball, all I’m thinking about is, ‘Take a good touch and strike it on frame,’” Salinas said. “The first touch was fortunate, got it out of my feet, and then I just tried to hit it over the goalie’s shoulder as hard as I could. That’s what happened.”
A goal that will live in Clasico history, that Salinas always knew he was going to score.
“Shea called his shot," Wondolowski said. "I’ve never seen that. That was pretty impressive, thought he was crazy. He’s Nostradamus.”