SAN JOSE, Calif. – Amidst the euphoric release of appreciation from the sold-out Avaya Stadium crowd, the San Jose Earthquakes quickly had to come to terms with a result that dropped them below the playoff line in a crowded Western Conference playoff race.
Sure, Chris Wondolowski’s goal from the penalty spot rescued a point for the home side in a 2-2 draw against the visiting Philadelphia Union, but with the next three games away from the Bay Area, and with only nine games remaining in their season, the Quakes recognized the mountain they have to climb, even while basking in the moment.
"It’s definitely not a negative," said head coach Chris Leitch. "You fight, you claw, you have a lot of guys going at them in the end not wanting to give up … Is it a positive? Yeah, it’s a positive."
Since taking over the team in late June, Leitch has guided the Earthquakes to an unbeaten record at home in all competitions. However, on the flip side, his squad has dropped all four road games in that span, shipping 15 goals and scoring only three. Leitch knows the task in the coming weeks -- at Real Salt Lake, at the LA Galaxy, and at Toronto FC -- will require a big change in approach.
"You try to get a point on the road, but depending on the game, you want to shift that point to three points if you can," said Leitch. "We will pick and choose our times to hopefully do that, and enter these next three road games with the right mindset. They are not going to be easy, but it is an important part of the season, and we will look to capture as many points as we can."
Against the Union, it was a late penalty call earned by midfielder Shea Salinas that helped the Quakes escape with a point. The 10-year veteran has seen a lot in his time in the league, and he relished the chance the three-game road trip presents him and his teammates at such a crucial time in the season.
"I look at it as an opportunity to persevere," said Salinas. "We’ve got a chance to prove people wrong. Everyone says we are not good on the road, and it’s clear we haven't been, but it also gives us a reason to fight and prove people wrong. Let's go. Let's prove we can be better."
If San Jose is going to keep their postseason dreams alive, they will need to find points somewhere in the schedule away from Avaya Stadium. The team has tasted victory on the road only twice all year, and they only have five more chances to improve on that mark.
"It's going to be tough, it's going to be competitive, it's going to be fun, and we have to answer the bell every single game," said Leitch, pausing for a moment before ending decisively with the declarative.
"It’s go time."