SAN JOSE, Calif. — With a chance to move into a playoff position in the Western Conference, the San Jose Earthquakes seized on the opportunity, dominating the Houston Dynamo in front of an announced crowd of 15,563 fans at Avaya Stadium in an impressive 2-0 win.
Goals on either side of intermission from Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili were the only goals San Jose would need in securing its sixth win of the season. In the Earthquakes last 10 MLS games, they’ve gone 5-1-4 for 19 points, second best over that span to the conference leaders LAFC’s 21.
“I felt good and I am happy that we won,” Vako said. “It was an important three points.”
The team’s leading scorer, Chris Wondolowski, was kept off the scoresheet for the first time in five games, but he had plenty of praise for Vako picking up the offensive slack on the night.
“I thought Vako was excellent tonight, and I am proud of him,” Chris Wondolowski said. “He’s a great player and is always a handful, so it was great to see him get his reward.”
The win was a good start to the Quakes’ week, as next they play host to the LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium in the annual summer Cali Clasico. San Jose also exacted a measure of revenge for a 2-1 loss at the Dynamo earlier in the season.
A tepid opening twenty minutes gave way to a moment of brilliance for the home side, as Espinoza initiated a quick corner kick that delivered Magnus Eriksson the ball at the edge of the area and ample time to pick out a target. With Wondolowski lurking at the back post and Vako making a near post run, Eriksson picked out the Georgian for a clever redirect into the back of the net to put the Quakes up 1-0.
For Vako it was his second goal of the MLS season, and it comes on the heels of three straight goals scored for San Jose in the U.S. Open Cup. The Quakes were bounced from the annual tournament last week at the hands of LAFC.
The Dynamo had no response for the goal, and the Earthquakes continued to surge into the attacking half in one possession after another. Espinoza was the catalyst for most forays, nearly connecting with Wondolowski on one play and almost doubling the Quakes’ lead with a solo effort a few minutes later.
The visitors brought in Mauro Manotas to start the second half, as head coach Wilmer Cabrera looked for a spark off the bench from the Dynamo’s leading scorer, but it was San Jose who retained momentum, pressuring Houston into numerous turnovers.
Wondolowski had a golden opportunity to get on the scoreboard in the 62nd minute, but his header from inside the box was parried away by goalkeeper Joe Willis. Two minutes later, Espinoza tagged a shot from a tight angle that called Willis into action again. In the 65th minute, it was Marcos Lopez firing off a shot from the top of the area that skimmed over the crossbar.
The Quakes, however, for all their offensive verve couldn’t find the back of the net during their five minutes of fury, allowing the Dynamo to stay within striking distance. Cabrera then brought in Romell Quioto and Michael Salazar to complete his substitutions for the night, hopeful the forwards would find an equalizer.
And then, Vako struck again. Following a cross through the area by Tommy Thompson that barely missed Wondolowski, Vako pounced on the loose ball, cut back to the center of the field, and unleashed a right footed shot that eluded a phalanx of orange defenders and beat Willis to the far post. It was the Designated Player’s first multi-goal game since scoring twice against FC Dallas last season on August 29.
Vako came very close to making it 3-0 Quakes in the 79th minute after a dizzying run into the Dynamo area and a shot fired on target. Willis prevented the hat-trick with a stunning save, but it didn’t prevent the Avaya Stadium crowd from breaking out a “Vako!” chant in appreciation.
“It’s nice and I’m happy,” Vako said. “It motivates me so I’ll keep trying to continue it.”
In the 88th minute, Vako exited the game to a standing ovation having played his best game of the season. Homegrown midfielder Gilbert Fuentes, just 17 years old, took the Georgian’s place on the field for Matias Almeyda’s men.
All that was left for San Jose was to run out the clock, keeping the Dynamo off the scoreboard and earning another shutout at home, their fourth of the season. Quakes goalkeeper Daniel Vega was only called to make one save on the night, and he credited the clean sheet to a complete team performance.
“If we play the way we did today, it is difficult to beat us,” said Vega. “We have to win together, and there’s no other way to win games.”
The Quakes now turn their full attention to the Galaxy, as their rivals arrive at Stanford on Saturday as part of the next chapter of the Cali Clasico. The players will have just a few days to get prepared, but the joy of winning will certainly provide an extra motivation.