SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After going winless in July, the San Jose Earthquakes have turned their season around with a perfect August and now claim the title as "The Hottest Team in MLS."
Already up a goal on Shea Salinas' first half header, the Quakes took advantage of a red card issued to LA Galaxy defender Leonardo and cruised to a 1-0 victory to extend their season-best winning streak to four games.
The clean sheet from the San Jose defense marked their fourth in a row -- its 10th of the season -- and bolstered a playoff push that seemed inconceivable a month ago. The Earthquakes (11-10-5, 38 points) moved ahead of the Seattle Sounders into sole possession of sixth place with the win, as the Western Conference leaders Galaxy (13-8-8, 46 points) dropped their second straight game to San Jose in Northern California.
"I thought they were great tonight," said head coach Dominic Kinnear. "In the first half I thought we played some real good stuff. We defended well."
"This was very important for us," added defender Shaun Francis. "The main thing is we have to remain focused and can't get too far ahead. Just because we fought back into playoff positioning doesn't mean we can't fall back out. We've won four in a row without conceding a goal, but our job is not done. We need to continue with this play and grow with each victory."
The Earthquakes have three games remaining on their current home-stand and will want to put more pressure on the conference elite in that time. In all, San Jose plays 6 of its remaining 8 games this season in the friendly confines of Avaya Stadium.
Under the Friday night lights, with a national television tuning in on UniMas, the crowd was certainly anxious as the match began, what with LA's star-studded cast of characters looking ready to pounce at a moment's notice. And there was an unmistakable tension in the air that if San Jose committed a turnover on defense that the Galaxy would likely find the back of the net.
Instead, it was the Earthquakes that struck first, with a complete team effort that ended with Salinas celebrating a well taken goal. With the 18th minute drawing to a close, Marvell Wynne took advantage of space at the top corner of the area to whip a left-footed cross to the far post to Quincy Amarikwa. With Gyassi Zardes draped on his back, the spark plug of a forward headed a shot that goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts did well to parry away from danger.
But in rushed Salinas, stepping around a ball-watching Omar Gonzalez, to head home the rebound and give the home side a 1-0 lead -- their ninth goal scored without a goal allowed. It was the third goal of the season, for Salinas, a new career high for the Quakes first pick in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft. He has scored two goals in a season twice before: 2008 and 2013.
Sold-out Avaya Stadium let loose following the goal, as the well-deserved lead elevated the energy from the crowd. Chants of "Beat LA" ringed around facility, and the San Jose Ultras roared from the second deck, instilling confidence in the Quakes and propelling them more often into the attacking half. LA did not look worried, but it was San Jose that played as if in the driver's seat.
A steadfast back line, anchored by Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez, with Anibal Godoy and Marc Pelosi providing midfield cover, seemed to frustrate reigning MLS MVP Robbie Keane and Mexican international Giovani dos Santos at every turn. And with LA's third designated player Steven Gerrard playing a deep roll, well behind the offense, the Galaxy looked second best on almost every foray into the Quakes' half.
The Earthquakes' goal scoring "Centurion" Chris Wondolowski, with 101 regular season goals in his San Jose career, had a golden opportunity to double the lead in the 38th minute, but his diving header smashed off the post. Wondolowski was shaken up on the play, landing awkwardly after colliding with A.J DeLaGarza. He left the field after a few moments, holding his left arm tight to his body, before re-entering the game a minute later.
LA had a pair of promising attacks in the closing minutes of the first half, but errant shots that were closer to the Ultras than David Bingham's goal undid the Western Conference leaders each time. To the surprise of many, it was the Galaxy that were playing with an uncharacteristic tightness, rushing passes and looking disjointed in the midfield. And seconds later, Jose Carlos Rivero blew his whistle on the opening half, and the Quakes walked determinedly back to their locker room up 1-0.
Less than two minutes into the second half, San Jose picked up even more swagger when defender Leonardo was sent off for pulling down Amarikwa on a breakaway -- a denial of a clear goal-scoring opportunity -- and the Quakes champed down a little bit more on the bit. LA, with head coach Bruce Arena leading the way, protested the decision, but Rivero would have nothing of it.
Somewhat ironically, the Galaxy looked the better team after going down a man, as San Jose sat back a bit and soaked up some nominal pressure from the visitors. Bingham had to punch a pair of shots away from danger, but that was the extent of the trouble that LA could muster.
On 65 minutes, the Quakes offense came alive, as they piled numbers into the box looking to double their lead. Ricketts was up to the challenge on every shot, and some wise defending from Gonzalez kept the Earthquakes off the board.
Meanwhile, Godoy and Pelosi played impressively in the center of the Quakes' midfield, both completing nearly 90% of their passes and not allowing the LA forwards space to gather momentum in the attacking third. The Earthquakes have not conceded a goal since Godoy stepped into the starting line-up two weeks ago against the Colorado Rapids.
In the 87th minute, Bingham came to the rescue on a sequence that forced him to punch a dangerous cross to safety. The Galaxy sensed the opportunity was there to snatch a late equalizer, and they poured forward with numbers as the match entered stoppage time. A yellow card issued to Bernardez gifted the Galaxy a long free kick, but Gerrard sprayed his effort wide of the post.
The Earthquakes next return to MLS action on Saturday, September 5, when they host the Philadelphia Union at Avaya Stadium. They will be without Pelosi and Godoy for that game as both players have been called into international duty for the upcoming week. Both are expected back in time for the visit of the Seattle Sounders on September 12 -- the U.S. Soccer U-23 camp in Manchester, England ends on September 8, the same date as Panama's friendly against Venezuela.