SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Chris Wondolowski nodded home a smartly delivered cross from Arturo Alvarez in the 69th minute to push San Jose past visiting Philadelphia 1-0 on Wednesday at Buck Shaw Stadium and closer to the MLS playoffs.
The win moves the Earthquakes past Colorado and into possession of sixth place in the overall league table. San Jose are now eight points clear of ninth-place Toronto FC in their bid to earn their first postseason berth since being re-established in 2008.
Wondolowski’s goal, his ninth of the season, rescued what had been a somewhat lackluster performance for the Quakes, who generated little offense of note in the opening 45 minutes.
The scoring play started with Bobby Convey crossing from the left wing for Eduardo, who fell down without drawing a penalty. But Alvarez recovered the loose ball on the opposite side and took his time before delivering his first assist of 2010.
Diving Philadelphia goalkeeper Brad Knighton, making his second start in place of deposed Chris Seitz, got a couple fingers on Wondolowski’s header, but could only push it into the side netting.
Of Wondolowski’s nine goals on the season, six have been game-winners, moving him into a tie for the league lead in that category with Los Angeles’ Edson Buddle.
The loss dealt another critical blow to the faint playoff hopes of expansion Philadelphia, who almost snatched a point at the death when an unmarked Shea Salinas ran onto a free kick from Sebastien Le Toux in the 93rd minute.
Salinas’ rip from 12 yards was headed wide, but a deflection off Tim Ward forced Jon Busch to make one final save to secure his second consecutive shutout and fourth in 10 starts.
Philadelphia generated the best scoring chances before intermission, both times by laying the ball off for onrushing holding midfielders. But Busch was able to knock away Stefani Miglioranzi’s 30-yard blast in the 22nd minute, and eventually covered up a 35-yard drive from Andrew Jacobson in the 37th.
San Jose’s most dangerous first-half moment was cut short by referee Silviu Petrescu’s whistle, which halted play after Wondolowski was ruled offside in the 42nd minute.
Wondolowski, who started up top in a pairing with Designated Player Geovanni for the first time, had been honing in on a soft rebound given up by Knighton, who allowed scads of second-chance opportunities but went unpunished by a San Jose side surprisingly reluctant to push forward in search of a go-ahead score.
Quakes coach Frank Yallop attempted to inject some urgency into his team’s attack with the halftime addition of Eduardo and Alvarez in place of Khari Stephenson – who looked limited by his sprained left ankle – and Joey Gjertsen.
The moves didn’t work immediately, but eventually had their effect. Eduardo came up just short of reaching a long, low cross from Convey that could have led to a clinching goal in the 87th minute. And Knighton did well to push a dipping free kick from Geovanni over the crossbar in the 89th.