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San Jose Earthquakes show growing confidence in 2-1 win over Columbus Crew SC

Chris Wondolowski scores 130th all-time MLS goal to secure the victory

Urena’s goal instrumental in Quakes 2-1 victory
Joe Nuxoll | Center Line Soccer

When the San Jose Earthquakes fired legendary coach Dominic Kinnear in June, the team was lingering at the red line in the Western Conference, holding out hope that they would be able to finish the regular season with a playoff run for the first time since 2012.

Six weeks — and six games — later, with new head coach Chris Leitch in charge, the story remains the same, but these Quakes are looking more prepared to make their dream of postseason qualification a reality. And Saturday’s complete 2-1 win over the visiting Columbus Crew SC at sold-out Avaya Stadium was indication that the team has what it takes to keep atop the red line over the last third of the season.

The Earthquakes (9-9-5, 32 points) currently sit in fifth place in the West, but they share the same number of wins as the first through sixth place competition in what is a wide-open race to finish in the top-six by season’s end. With just one loss at home this season, San Jose has built its record on its results at Avaya, and it will need to match that effort with points earned on the road if it wants to compete for MLS Cup. The Quakes lost three road games in a row in July, and they next play in Houston as part of their regular season schedule.

“It’s a good little gut-check time for us,” said Leitch, “knowing that it’s an important part of the season where there’s a lot on the line.”

The Quakes were outplayed by Columbus for most of the first 30 minutes of the match, and a pair of missed opportunities by the visitors in front of goal was a wake-up call for Leitch’s men. The rookie coach then made the adjustments that changed the course of the game, and he was rewarded when Marco Urena scored just before halftime on a well executed counterattack following a midfield turnover.

“Marco puts so much into it, every game he plays,” said Leitch. “Not just scoring goals, but defensively, and the runs he makes. The guy makes eight or nine runs for every ball he gets. I think that’s what a good forward does.”

The goal from the Costa Rican, his third of the season, was just the boost the team needed, and they came out in the second half with more vigor than they showed to the start the game. Goal number two — a as simple as you like it Chris Wondolowski special in the box — capped an impressive turnaround from the home side.

“That's why I think tonight was so important to keep our focus in this game,” said Leitch, “to dig into a game that from the onset maybe we weren't as assertive as we'd like to be and to turn the tide and make the adjustments and come out in the second half with the right mentality and be able to close it out.”

The Crew did score late in the game to make it interesting. Former Quakes forward Adam Jahn tapped in a redirected corner kick that almost brought about a Video Assisted Referee review, but San Jose tightened up on defense and nearly restored its two goal lead on offense. The three points were almost a certainty despite the late concession, as the Earthquakes kept calm and saw out the last 10 minutes of the match.

San Jose next faces Sporting Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals this Wednesday before heading to Houston for Saturday’s league match. But coming off two straight home wins, and playing with a confidence that has never been higher this season, the Quakes have as good a chance as any to taste victory on the road for the first time in a long time.

"Each game is different, each road trip is a different task each game,” said Wondolowski. “It's going to be definitely difficult going to Kansas City and Houston and I think it's going to test our depth. One of the things that I feel that is one of our strengths is our depth this year. I think that it's going to come to light hopefully this week."

MLS Regular Season Match Summary
San Jose Earthquakes 2 - 1 Columbus Crew SC
Aug. 5, 2017 — Avaya Stadium in San Jose, CA.
Attendance: 18,000

Scoring Summary: SJ — Marco Ureña (Shea Salinas) 42; SJ — Chris Wondolowski (Tommy Thompson) 56; CLB — Adam Jahn (Jonathan Mensah, Justin Meram) 76.

Misconduct Summary: CLB — Jonathan Mensah (caution) 26; SJ — Shea Salinas (caution) 90+1.

San Jose Earthquakes: David Bingham; Andres Imperiale, Victor Bernardez, Florian Jungwirth; Shea Salinas, Jackson Yueill (Fatai Alashe 90), Nick Lima, Tommy Thompson, Darwin Ceren; Chris Wondolowski, Marco Ureña (Vako 80).

Statistics: Shots: 20, Shots of Goal: 7; Saves: 3; Fouls: 13; Corner Kicks: 14; Offside: 4.

Columbus Crew SC: Zack Steffen; Alex Crognale (Adam Jahn 74), Jonathan Mensah, Nicolai Naess; Jukka Raitala (Waylon Francis 86), Hector Jimenez, Artur, Wil Trapp; Kekuta Manneh (Cristian Martinez 56), Justin Meram, Ola Kamara.

Statistics: Shots: 10; Shots of Goal: 4; Saves: 5; Fouls: 10; Corner Kicks: 7; Offside: 1.