A Chris Wondolowski hat-trick paced the San Jose Earthquakes to a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park Saturday night. With the win, the Earthquakes clinched the regular season Western Conference title and a coveted number one seed in the MLS Cup playoffs.
"It means everything," said head coach Frank Yallop. "First of all, making the playoffs is what you're trying to do from the start. Your main thing is trying to win the West. It was a great performance for our guys mentally. I thought we did really well today."
Less than two minutes into the match, Marvin Chavez opened the scoring for San Jose against Colorado, and Wondolowski followed with his 23rd, 24th, and 25th goals of the season. With his hat-trick performance, Wondolowski widened his lead in the MLS Golden Boot race to 8 goals over the next best scorer and cemented his name as the favorite for the 2012 league MVP award.
"I'm not even sure if I'm the MVP of my team," said Wondolowski. "We have so many great guys that have been doing some amazing things. I get the stats, I guess, but it's definitely team-oriented."
With three goals scored, Wondolowski raised his San Jose career total to 62 goals and passed Ronald Cerritos to become the Earthquakes franchise all-time goal scorer. His 25 goals in 2012 mark the fourth best MLS single-season mark all-time. With two more goals in the team’s remaining two regular season games, Wondolowski would draw level with Roy Lassiter for the single-season record of 27 goals scored, and place him among the best goal scorers in MLS history.
"It's surreal to be honest," said Wondolowski. "It hasn't really sunk in. The names that I see up there on the all-time scoring list are just unbelievable. Those guys are absolutely legends so it's a true honor and something that I do take a lot of pride in."
The Earthquakes were denied their biggest shutout in franchise history when Colorado scored just before the final whistle. Rapids forward Andre Akpan pulled one back when he converted a penalty kick after being dragged down in the area by defender Jason Hernandez. The Earthquakes center back earned a red card for the foul and will sit out the team’s next match.
"I was disappointed at the end at Jason getting red-carded," said Yallop. "He should have just let him score because it didn't really impact the game at all and now he's off for the Galaxy game. That was the only sort of thing we just talked about in (the locker room) that wasn't a positive."
The victory moved the Earthquakes six points clear of Sporting Kansas City at the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings and guaranteed that one of either San Jose or Kansas City will win the award. A loss by Sporting to the Columbus Crew on Sunday would virtually clinch the Shield for San Jose and garner them a berth in the 2013/14 CONCACAF Champions League tournament.
Following their road draw with FC Dallas last weekend, the Earthquakes refigured their line-up in search of a victory against the struggling Rapids. Coach Yallop unveiled a Starting XI that featured the team’s three leading scorers this season: Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart, and Alan Gordon. With such offensive power on the field, it did not take long for the visitors to capitalize.
In the second minute, Sam Cronin sent a long free kick into the Rapids area that was cleared right to the feet of Chavez. The Honduran midfielder, who will join his country’s national team for a pair of World Cup qualifying matches this week, drilled a shot through traffic that left goalkeeper Matt Pickens flat-footed.
The Earthquakes doubled their lead in the 11th minute through Wondolowski, who used his chest to guide a cross from Rafael Baca past Pickens for what would eventually turn out to be his MLS record 11th game winning goal of the season.
Colorado twice had opportunities to get on the board in the first half but Justin Morrow cleared a Luis Zapata chipped shot off the line in the 30th minute and Ramiro Corrales nicked a shot from Omar Cummings beyond the far post in the 43rd minute.
Wondolowski netted his second goal of the game in 51st minute after a cross into the area deflected into his path in front of goal. Defender Drew Moor made a touch on the ball as the shot rifled on target, and Pickens was unable to make a try on the goal.
The MLS Golden Boot leader completed his hat-trick in the 83rd minute when the Colorado defense completely lost track of him at the top of the area. Cronin, spying the wide open Wondolowski fed him the ball with plenty of time to turn and shoot on target. The goal extended the Earthquakes lead to 4-0 on the night.
The Rapids pulled one back in stoppage time after Hernandez tackled Akpan from behind inside the San Jose penalty area. As the last defender on the Colorado breakaway, Hernandez received an automatic ejection, and Akpan was awarded a penalty kick. Goalkeeper Jon Busch guessed correctly on the Rapids forward’s kick, but the shot was too hot to handle and Colorado broke up the Earthquakes shutout bid.
The Earthquakes begin a two week break in the schedule and will return to action on October 21 when they face the Los Angeles Galaxy at Buck Shaw Stadium. San Jose closes out the regular season with a trip away to Portland the following weekend before embarking on their quest for the MLS Cup at the start of November.
Complete Match Highlights: