The San Jose Earthquakes edged their way into playoff position with a crucial 1-0 victory over Western Conference challengers Houston Dynamo on Saturday night. Danny Hoesen’s first-half strike made the difference in a tight contest that marked Chris Wondolowski’s club record two-hundred-and-fifty-first appearance.
Coach Chris Leitch stuck with a four-man back-line that he introduced in a 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles last month, and its defensive solidity was crucial in the Quakes holding a narrow lead.
However, the formation also decelerated their build-up play and forced Jackson Yeuill and Florian Jungwirth to drop deep to pick up the ball, which created a disconnect between their front and back-lines. Shea Salinas’ blistering runs down the left were the home side’s most effective outlet and he set up the first chance of the match with a clipped cross to the near post, where Marco Ureña flicked over. The Texan winger played as a full-back in Leitch’s back-four and successfully stymied Houston’s pace down the line, preventing service into star forward Cubo Torres.
Andres Imperiale headed on target from a corner in the seventeenth minute and Hoesen finally made the breakthrough from Kofi Sarkodie’s cross in in the thirty-fourth minute. The Dutch forward turned on a dime in the center of the penalty area and buried into the bottom corner, his league third goal of the season.
The goal forced Houston into action and the visitors responded with an extended spell of pressure early in the second half. Tomás Martínez fired at Andrew Tarbell and Alberth Elis also shot wide on a quick breakaway, which sent the home side’s back-line scrambling. Torres so nearly netted an equalizer with a towering header on the hour mark but the post spared the Quakes’ lead.
The home side searched for a second goal to seal the victory but couldn’t take advantage of their chances. Wondolowski came close from a header and a volley and Yeuill’s thumping strike was parried but goals were not forthcoming.
Ureña’s work-rate and pace created numerous chances but the Costa Rican forward also struggled to convert. He shot over the bar from a long diagonal ball in the seventy-eighth minute and couldn’t beat the goalkeeper in another one-on-one situation five minutes later.
It was somewhat of a relief, then, when the referee blew the final whistle and the Quakes leaped into fifth place in the Western Conference table.