'Quakes advance to CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals

'Quakes advance to CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals
October 23, 2013, 10:45 pm
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It’s a big accomplishment and we are proud of it.
Chris Wondolowski

SANTA CLARA — Left for dead after two rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League, the San Jose Earthquakes completed an epic comeback to qualify for the tournament’s quarterfinal round with a 1-0 victory over CD Heredia Wednesday night in front of 4,722 at Buck Shaw Stadium.

The Quakes earned the win when Chris Wondolowski stroked home a goal midway through the second half to overcome a valiant defense effort from their Guatemalan opponent. The three points earned moved San Jose into a three-way tie with Heredia and the Montreal Impact in Group Five with 6 points apiece, but due to a superior goal differential of +2, the Earthquakes emerged as group winners.

“It’s a big accomplishment and we are proud of it,” said Wondolowski. “It is something we can hang our hats on. It’s nice to have something to look forward to during the offseason to be working and striving for.”

The goal came against a Heredia team that needed only a draw to win the group themselves. After San Jose took the lead, the Earthquakes defense stood strong to keep the score in their favor.

“I thought we played very well tonight,” said Jon Busch. “On any other night we score more goals, but tonight we got the goal we needed and the clean sheet.

Of the eight teams that have qualified for the knockout round of the CCL, the Earthquakes have the least number of points and will be assigned the eighth seed when the tournament resumes in March of 2014.

As it stands, San Jose is likely to be matched up with Toluca of Mexico in the quarterfinal round, although a potential pairing with the LA Galaxy remains an outside possibility. The Galaxy would have to make up a 6 goal differential in its last group stage match when it faces off against Isidro Metapan Thursday night in El Salvador to pass Toluca for the #1 overall seed.

“It is a fantastic achievement for our club,” said interim head coach Mark Watson. “To be in the Champions League you have to have done well. And now we’ve made it through the group stage after losing the first two games. It’s a competition we are going to take seriously.”

San Jose completes its MLS season this weekend against FC Dallas already eliminated from postseason consideration. However, for at least one night, the team could celebrate a significant accomplishment in an otherwise disappointing season.

“It was one of our goals from the start of the season to advance through CONCACAF and we did that, so you can check that box off the list,” said Busch. “It’s a good little bonus at the end of the season after the disappointment of last weekend.”

With nothing left to play for but pride in their last MLS regular season game, the Earthquakes used as strong a line-up as coach Watson had available, starting the same eleven that were held to a scoreless draw at the LA Galaxy last Sunday, in an effort to secure passage through to the quarterfinal round.

Needing nothing more than a draw to win Group Five, Heredia opened the match in a tight defensive arrangement that dared the Earthquakes to press forward. The hosts obliged, and in the 6th minute had a golden opportunity to strike for the game’s first goal.

After Shea Salinas deftly dribbled into the area from the right flank, the winger cut a pass back to the top of the box for Steven Lenhart to blast on target. Heredia goalkeeper Jose Calderon made the stop, but spilled the ball in front of goal. Wondolowski, racing in on the loose ball, chipped his follow-up over the crossbar and along the top netting.

In the 28th minute, on their third corner kick of the match, the Quakes forced Calderon to make another smart save. Salinas’ delivery was missed by Victor Bernardez, but made its way to Clarence Goodson at the far edge of the scrum. The U.S. international defender headed a strong shot on target but too close to Calderon stationed on his goal line.

The Heredia defense continued to camp out in its own area, but in the 32nd minute appeared to have been unlocked by Wondolowski. After taking a touch to free himself near the penalty spot, the Earthquakes leading scorer teed up a left-footed shot that went well wide of the goal.

Following three successive corner kicks, the Quakes kept their upfield pressure on the Guatemalan defense and generated a good scoring chance in the 42nd minute. A weak clearance was collected by Jordan Stewart on the left side of the area and shot back through the area searching for a target. Wondolowski sprinted in toward the far post, but the forward glanced the cross off his toe and over the endline for a Heredia goal kick.

Scoreless at intermission, the Earthquakes kept the same eleven on the field to start the second half and continued their assault on the Heredia defense. A long range effort from Goodson in the 49th minute required Calderon to turn the ball around his post, and a wide open shot from Rafael Baca on a botched corner kick in the 53rd minute skimmed tantalizingly over the crossbar.

Wondolowski, who wasted a trio of scoring opportunities, finally broke through for the Earthquakes in the 62nd minute. After a hustle play from Salinas along the left wing gave the midfielder ample time and space to send a cross into the area, he delivered a pinpoint ball right to Wondolowski at the edge of the six yard box that required the most direct of right-footed shots to put San Jose up 1-0 on the previously resolute Guatemalans.

Heredia’s defensive spirit broken, the visitors started to show more impetus to enter the attacking third. A corner kick in the 72nd minute, their first of the match, was redirected off the post by second half substitute Enrique Miranda to almost earn Heredia an equalizer.

The visitors appeared to get their equalizer in the 86th minute as a short-range shot from Charles Cordova was stabbed home from inside the six yard box. However, the assistant referee raised the flag to indicate offside and the goal was waved off. Miranda earned a yellow card for protesting the decision.

The Earthquakes, who had to adjust their tactics to play more defensively as Heredia increased their efforts on offense, survived over 5 minutes of stoppage time and the ejection of Goodson for his second yellow card of the night to secure the 1-0 win. With the final whistle, the Quakes celebrated advancement to next spring’s quarterfinal round of the Champions League.

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