SANTA CLARA — With both teams battling to keep their playoff hopes alive, the San Jose Earthquakes and Vancouver Whitecaps instead settled for a hard-fought scoreless draw in front of a capacity crowd at Buck Shaw Stadium.
Despite numerous scoring opportunities against the Whitecaps (10-10-8), who saw their winless record on the road stretched to 6 games, the Earthquakes (10-11-8) dropped points at home for the first time since a 1-1 draw against the Colorado Rapids back on May 18.
“It was frustrating,” said interim head coach Mark Watson. “I didn’t think it was a great performance. We are disappointed because it was a big game tonight and we knew we needed the three points.”
Without instrumental midfield leader Rafael Baca in the lineup, suspended due to a red card ejection earned in last weekend’s 1-0 win against the Philadelphia Union, the Quakes ceded the possession battle to the ‘Caps, 56% to 44%. San Jose did make up for its lack on the ball with 22 shots, but Vancouver was up to every challenge in earning the 0-0 draw.
“We need to finish our chances,” said Watson. “If you don’t score goals, you can’t win games, and obviously we need to do that. Our finishing needs to be better.”
While unable to break through on offense, the Earthquakes defense posted its fifth shutout in its last 6 games at Buck Shaw. Goalkeeper Jon Busch posted his 73rd career clean sheet and is now tied with New England Revolution ‘keeper Matt Reis for #5 on the MLS all-time list.
“It feels good to get a clean sheet,” said defender Steven Beitashour, “but we really needed that win. We’re disappointed not to get three points tonight. We played well, but at this point in the season, we need to close out that match with a goal.”
San Jose has a quick turnaround as it next faces the Montreal Impact as part of the CONCACAF Champions League this Tuesday night before heading to Utah to face Real Salt Lake in MLS action next Saturday.
“Every game is huge; we need points in all of them,” said midfielder Sam Cronin. “We let a good opportunity pass tonight so that makes the rest of our games even more important.”
San Jose entered the night eighth in the Western Conference and riding a 6 game winning streak at home. Without the suspended Baca, coach Watson elected to start MLS Original Ramiro Corrales in the center of midfield, and the Quakes creativity on offense suffered at the expense of his more defensive minded play.
The Earthquakes waited nearly 20 minutes to create their first quality scoring chance of the evening. After chasing down a speculative long ball on the right sideline, Beitashour crossed into the area where Chris Wondolowski flashed a header on target, but the shot was deflected out for a corner kick. The delivery from Shea Salinas was met by Alan Gordon and headed right to goalkeeper David Ousted. The rebound fell favorably to Clarence Goodson, but he skied is shot over the crossbar from within the 6-yard box.
On the ascendancy, the Quakes created plenty of havoc in the Vancouver area, but just couldn’t find a way through the Whitecaps defense. For a spell, many on the Earthquakes felt the visitors were playing with a man advantage as two ignored foul calls by referee Jair Marrufo, including a shout for a penalty when Corrales was tripped in the area, left the home side fuming.
The heavy pressure by the San Jose offense took its toll on the Vancouver backline as defender Brad Rusin, making his first start since suffering a sprained ankle at the beginning of August, had to leave the game due to injury in the 31st minute. His replacement was former U.S. national team centerback Jay DeMerit, himself making his first appearance since going down with an Achilles’ tendon injury in the Whitecaps season opener back in March.
The change seemed to settle the Whitecaps, and the Quakes found it difficult to generate anything on offense for much of the rest of the half. A free kick chance in stoppage time from Salinas found a mess of bodies in the box, but a header from Victor Bernardez soared over the goal.
The bulky centerback, wearing #5 for the first time this season instead of his familiar #26, sent a shot even higher above the target from a free kick chance in the 51st minute. With his trademark long run-up to the ball, Bernardez blasted the ball over the scoreboard where it bounced through the Quakes practice pitch before coming to a rest in autograph alley.
Another free kick opportunity in the 61st minute nearly led to the Quakes first goal as a quick restart found Wondolowski behind the defense, but his slight touch on the ball only served to deflect it right into the arms of Ousted.
Second half substitute Marvin Chavez almost paid immediate dividends in the 70th minute when his hustle play led to a turnover by Gershon Koffie at the top of the area. The Honduran international settled the ball and fired a shot that was expertly blocked by DeMerit. The rebounding ball fell to Cronin, and he lifted a shot into the area that Gordon glanced wide of goal with a header.
Knowing a draw would do little to aid in the Quakes flagging playoff hopes, interim coach Mark Watson sent in substitutes Walter Martinez in the 80th minute and Jaime Alas in the 82nd minute to bolster the offense. The onrush in the attacking third did free Cronin for a shot in the 84th minute, but his blast drifted well wide of its intended target.
In the 87th minute, a free kick from 50 yards was sent into the mixer, and DeMerit nearly headed it into his own net, but Ousted turned the ball around the goal post for a corner kick.
After escaping two near misses by the Whitecaps to start stoppage time, the Earthquakes pressed every single player forward in search for an elusive goal. Crosses from the right by Chavez and the left by Jordan Stewart were headed away by the Vancouver defense. A slight chance emerged in the 94th minute when Gordon collected a pass to his feet, but he couldn’t pull the trigger, and the Whitecaps defense recovered to make the clearance.
The last ditch effort did not pay off for the Earthquakes, and the two sides settled for a scoreless draw that raised each team’s points total to 38, but did little to help either side in the race to make the MLS postseason.
San Jose next welcomes the Montreal Impact to Buck Shaw Stadium for a CONCACAF Champions League match on Tuesday before heading out on the road to battle Real Salt Lake next Saturday.