Fans packed Avaya Stadium on Saturday night, the second-to-last home match of the season, to support the Quakes’ last gasp effort to make the playoffs versus the Portland Timbers. A loss or tie would have surely doomed San Jose to a fifth straight season without a post-season appearance. Fortunately the team, and the fans, came prepared for the challenge; the Quakes won the rubber-match 2-1 after splitting the first two regular season games of the season.
The Quakes came out with an intensity for which Portland was not prepared. At 16′, Jahmir Hyka intercepted a pass that was misplayed by Roy Miller which began a counter-attack opportunity; Hyka found a wide-open Vako, who took a quick touch and curved it into the far post. Six minutes later, Vako almost assisted a Hyka goal on a throughball which found its way past Danny Hoesen, but Hyka’s shot was saved by Jeff Attinella.
Victor Bernardez began the second counter-attack goal by intercepting a pass at midfield and finding Vako on the left wing. Vako was able to land a pass for Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski, whose through-ball found Danny Hoesen inside the box. Hoesen beat Miller, Liam Ridgewell, and Attinella for the goal.
However, Portland would not go quitely into the night. A Sebastian Blanco goal at the top of the box beat Quakes ‘keeper Andrew Tarbell at 86’ to set the final score at 2-1.
The Quakes managed 19 shots with 6 on frame and limited Portland to 16 shots with just two on frame, and 10 off target.
Jahmir Hyka had a dream performance for his attacking midfield role: an assist, four key passes, five crosses, 82.4% passing accuracy, three shots–one of which was saved by Attinella, and two interceptions.
The center-back duo of Victor Bernardez and Flo Jungwirth dominated Portland’s attack. Both players had five tackles and four interceptions. Jungwirth managed eleven clearances to Muma’s eight, while Muma had two blocked shots.
Vako may have emerged as the Quakes offensive centerpiece. Vako finished with a goal, seven shots, two on target, seven dribbles, two key passes, two tackles, two interceptions, and a blocked shot. By comparison, forward/captain Chris Wondolowski finished with zero shots, two key passes, and five turnovers.
Keys to Victory
The pre-match highlighted the need for Chris Leitch not to overthink his lineup, but play his best available players, including reestablishing the center-back tandem of Victor Bernardez and Flo Jungwirth. The defense held Portland to just two shots on goal all night.
A second key to victory was scoring the first goal. A disturbing trend formed during the Leitch tenure as head coach: going down early in games. As a result, the Quakes would play more aggressively, and be burned for it to the tune of three and four goal defeats. Vako’s early goal, and the team’s continued press on the attack, set the tone needed for San Jose to seize the three points.
The biggest match of the season will take place in a few weeks as the Quakes travel to Vancouver. The Whitecaps are currently first in the West with 51 points, and the Quakes’ road performances over the past eight games has been abysmally bad. If the Quakes can muster the same energy and enthusiasm they were able to kindle on Saturday night, they may find a way to exorcise those road demons, come home with three points, and defeat the expansion Minnesota United FC at home, the Quakes could be playoff bound.