In the first meaningless game in the history of two-year-old Avaya Stadium, the San Jose Earthquakes and Vancouver Whitecaps, both already eliminated from MLS Cup Playoffs contention, played to a scoreless draw.
Inclement weather earlier in the day scared off many fans ahead of Fan Appreciation Day, as the stands at Avaya were far from full. Perhaps it was also the Quakes disappointing home record — one that dropped to 7-3-7 overall with the draw — that contributed to the supporter malaise on what ultimately was a rainbow-filled afternoon for soccer.
Whatever the case, the Earthquakes started the game brightly, outplaying the Whitecaps over the first quarter hour of the match, but then suffered their own ennui in the second half and settled for their 14th draw of the season — tying a club record that was set in 2011 (the Quakes missed the playoffs that season too).
“To win. I'm here to win. I don't like losing,” said goalkeeper David Bingham. “We have 14 ties this year. It's frustrating. I don't think anyone's more frustrated than the players in this locker room.”
Bingham, who earlier in the day was named the team’s Defensive Player of the Year, isn’t tasked with scoring goals: His responsibility is to stop them. And on an afternoon when Vancouver played so-so soccer, Bingham stood tall when it counted and earned his eighth shutout of the season.
“It's really frustrating that we've kind of had the season that we've had, especially with these players and the quality of this locker room,” added Bingham. “I think we definitely should be in the playoffs, but that's not the situation we're in now.”
Emblematic of the Quakes struggles this season are their goals-for and goals-against totals. San Jose’s defense is among the best in MLS, giving up only 38 goals in 33 games — third best in the league. On the flip side, it’s offense as been anemic, scoring 32 goals — less than a goal per game. The Earthquakes take plenty of shots and attempt a considerable number of set pieces per match, but their conversion rate is among the worst in MLS, and, as a result, the team will now miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
“You look at the stats and the stats don't lie,” said embattled head coach Dominic Kinnear. “We haven't scored enough goals this year. I'm not going to hide from it. We need to score more goals.”
While Chris Wondolowski, who earlier Sunday was named team Most Valuable Player, keep finding the back of the net — he has 12 goals on the season, good for 11th best in MLS — the next leading scorer on the Quakes has only five: Designated Player midfielder Simon Dawkins. Wondo was expected to score goals — that’s his job — and for the seventh consecutive MLS season he reached double-digits, but others on the roster needed to step up and finish their chances.
“It's not that we're not trying to score,” continued Kinnear. “It's just the quality in the last little bit has escaped us today and for quite a few games this year.”
The Earthquakes last trip to the MLS Cup Playoffs came in 2012, when the team captured the Supporters’ Shield and rewrote numerous offensive records in the process. Wondolowski tied the MLS record for goals scored with 27, and Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon added double-digit tallies. And while the 2016 Quakes are not as loaded on the roster as their 2012 compatriots, they do have the manpower to be competitive, something Wondolowski recognized early in the year.
“We feel that we have a very strong team and we didn't play up to our expectations,” summed up Wondo following Sunday’s game. “It is a very fine line in the league between winning and losing and making the playoffs or not. There is so much parity in the league, if you are not bringing it every week then its tough.”
The Quakes have one more game this season -- on the road against Sporting Kansas City — before they close the door on another disappointing campaign. Changes will be made in the off-season, both on the administrative and player sides, as the organization looks to retool ahead of 2017.