In the 61st minute, with the club in desperate need of a goal interim coach John Watson made a big gamble.
Watson sent on striker Alan Gordon in the place of midfielder Rafael Baca. The bold move immediately paid off for the San Jose Earthquakes as Chris Wondolowski stepped up to strike his eighth game-winning goal of the season.
The striker picked a cross out of the air from Shea Salinas and sent a perfectly executed volley into the back of the net. In the process, the Earthquakes claimed a 1-0 lead over CD Heredia and ultimately a berth in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Wondolowski credited the service of Salinas for the goal:
“Salinas played a great ball; he put it on a platter for me. I found myself with space and I didn’t try to over-think the moment and just tapped it in. Shea has been giving us service like that all year long so it’s only fitting he was able to find space and work a good ball in at a clutch time.”
Watson noted: “I thought our guys were excellent again. In the end it came down to their perseverance to keep going forward, and still stay solid in the back because it’s a dangerous situation when a team plays like that.”
It was a dangerous situation, indeed. In the 86th minute, Heredia put the ball in the back of the net. But the large and vocal contingent of Heredia fans would go home disappointed as the referee ruled the strike offside.
When asked by a reporter after the game if he had his heart in his throat, Watson joked: “I think it’s still there.”
He then added: “That’s a tough thing to see, but it looked like the player was beyond our line and obviously I was very relived to see the flag go up.”
The Champions League doesn’t resume again until next spring, and there’s a chance that Watson won’t be with the club by that time:
We’re going to sit down at the end of the season and discuss that. I felt good about the time I was in charge, and I think the players have done really well. I’m very fortunate as a coach to work with a great group that give me everything they have every day. The things I ask of them on game day they keep doing time and time again.
The team will miss out on the MLS playoffs, but Watson’s squad his gone 6-0-2 in all competitions over the final two months of the season.
As Watson put it: “We’ll see what happens.”
Note: After the game CD Heredia coach Juan Carlos Elias announced he had resigned.
All quotes courtesy of San Jose Earthquakes Media Relations or acquired first-hand.