Earthquakes

Earthquakes aim for playoff return in 2012

697670.jpg

Earthquakes aim for playoff return in 2012

Programming note: Watch Saturday night's season opener at 7:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California.

SAN JOSE (AP) -- Hiring an unproven coach and installing a new system has the New England Revolution living up to their nickname.

A slew of changes and a milestone ruling have the San Jose Earthquakes feeling confident.

Jay Heaps looks to win his coaching debut and prove the Revolution's solid preseason is a sign of things to come Saturday night when they visit the Earthquakes to open the MLS season.

New England finished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference last season with a 5-16-13 record, failing to reach the playoffs for a second consecutive year. That was enough to cost coach Steve Nicol his job after 10 seasons.

RELATED: Earthquakes stats roster schedule

With the Revs in the midst of a rebuilding project, they opted to hire Heaps, the club's television analyst for two years after spending 11 as a rugged, stalwart defender -- nine with New England.

The stunning hire was followed by an equally surprising change; the Revolution would be altering their system to a more possession-based one to encourage offensive play.

The style showed promise during preseason, as New England won three of four games (3-0-1), outscoring 2011 MLS Cup champion Los Angeles, New York and Salt Lake by a combined 7-3 in those victories.

"At times, it's been very positive," Heaps told the team's official website. "We've shown that we have players on the field who, when they have the ball at their feet, can change the game and that's what we really want to create.

"We also have good, strong, athletic players who can also get in behind. So we want to have kind of a one-two punch where we keep possession and we wear teams down, but then have the ability to get behind them."

One of those players is Saer Sene, a French forward who was has size (6-foot-3) and speed. He spent nearly three years with Germany's Bayern Munich, but was limited to playing for the reserve team. However, he had 19 goals in 55 matches.

"He's a great striker of the ball," Heaps said. "Now, (the question) is going to be can we spring him? Can we get him in dangerous areas?"

That task will be up to a midfield that stars captain Shalrie Joseph, U.S. international Benny Feilhaber and 20-year-old Kelyn Rowe, the third overall selection in January's SuperDraft.

Rowe, who left UCLA two years early, has been used in offensive-minded roles with various U.S. youth national teams.

"We're so excited and so looking forward to Saturday night," Joseph said. "Even though it's on the road, it feels good just getting our season started. Everybody's just ready to get that first kick in and get a win on the road."

The changes could help New England, which went 1-9-7 on the road last season. The team is 1-6-2 in its last nine visits to San Jose.

The Earthquakes are also looking to capitalize on changes, as they enter 2012 looking to return to the playoffs after going 8-12-14 last season.

They added midfielders Marvin Chavez, Tressor Moreno and rookie Sam Garza along with defender Victor Bernardez to a roster that already boasts Chris Wondolowski, who has totaled 34 goals over the last two seasons.

"We brought in some great guys, especially offensively, and I think that's really going to help produce (goals) and be very dangerous in the attack," Wondolowski told the team's official website. "I know other guys are going to be scoring a lot, but I think goal totals in general -- and general play for us -- will improve."

Wondolowski has three goals in the last four meetings with New England, including both in a 2-1 road victory Oct. 8.

The Quakes' optimism may also stem from last month's unanimous vote by the San Jose Planning Commission that approved the building of a new stadium.

Earthquakes secure spot in playoffs with clutch goal in stoppage time

Earthquakes secure spot in playoffs with clutch goal in stoppage time

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Marco Urena scored in the third minute of stoppage time and the San Jose Earthquakes secured a playoff spot with a 3-2 victory over Minnesota United on Sunday in their regular-season finale.

San Jose (13-14-7) needed a win for the final spot in the Western Conference after FC Dallas' 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy. It's an unexpected run for the Earthquakes, who fired coach Dominic Kinnear midway through the season.

In the build-up to the winner, San Jose goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell sent a long ball that was chested by Victor Bernardez and headed to Quincy Amarikwa inside the 18-yard box. Minnesota goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth pushed Amarikwa's shot wide but San Jose star Chris Wondolowski chased it down for a feed to an open Urena in front of goal.

The Earthquakes have won seven of their last nine home games — with every win coming by one goal.

Wondolowski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead in the 55th with an easy redirection of Danny Hoesen cross at the back post.

Minnesota (10-18-6), which has lost nine of its last 12 road games, tied it at 2 in the 81st on Francisco Calvo's header off the crossbar.

Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention

usmnt-trinadad-01-ap.jpg

Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention

COUVA, Trinidad — Twenty-eight years after one of the United States' most important victories came in stunning fashion at Trinidad to end a four-decade World Cup absence, the Americans' chances for the 2018 tournament in Russia ended on this island nation off the coast of Venezuela.

The U.S. was eliminated from World Cup contention Tuesday night, a shocking 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago ending a run of seven straight American appearances at soccer's showcase.

The Soca Warriors scored a pair of first-half goals, getting one off U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez, and the United States made too many other mistakes to recover. The Americans are out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

"We let down an entire nation today," Gonzalez said.

Shocked American players slumped on the bench, and Matt Besler sat on the field after the final whistle as Panama's game ended and then Costa Rica's. At the end, dejected U.S. players filed into their locker rooms with blank looks.

"We foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal," coach Bruce Arena said. "That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. That got them motivated."

The U.S. entered its final qualifier with a berth uncertain for the first time since 1989. Home losses to Mexico last November and Costa Rica left the Americans little margin for error.

The 28th-ranked Americans needed merely a tie against 99th-ranked Trinidad, which lost its sixth straight qualifier last week. But the defeat — coupled with Honduras' come-from-behind 3-2 win over Mexico and Panama's 2-1 victory over Costa Rica on Ramon Torres' 88th-minute goal — dropped the Americans from third place into fifth in the six-nation final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Mexico and Costa Rica already had clinched berths, and Panama claimed the third and final automatic spot and will go the World Cup for the first time. Honduras will meet Australia in a two-game playoff next month for another spot at next year's 32-nation tournament.

Missing the World Cup is a devastating blow to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has steadily built the sport in the last quarter-century with the help of sponsors and television partners. It also is a trauma for Fox, which broadcasts the next three World Cups after taking the U.S. rights from ESPN. The USSF hopes to co-host the 2026 tournament with Mexico and Canada, and Morocco is the only other bidder.

After an 0-2 start in the hexagonal last fall under Jurgen Klinsmann, the USSF replaced him last November with Arena, the American coach from 1998-2006. The team revived with home wins over Honduras and Trinidad last spring and draws at Panama and Mexico. But the 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica in New Jersey at the start of Labor Day weekend proved one hurdle too many to overcome.

The Americans fell behind in the 17th minute when Gonzalez made a casual attempt with his left foot to clear Alvin Jones' cross and sent the ball looping over the outstretched right arm of goalkeeper Tim Howard from 18 yards.

Jones doubled the lead in the 37th with a 35-yard strike, again to Howard's upper right corner, and nearly scored another in the 44th when his swerving shot bounced off Howard's chest and spilled into the penalty area.

Christian Pulisic, the Americans' 19-year-old star midfielder, scored in the 47th minute from the arc with a right-footed shot. He played a role in 12 of the 17 American goals in the hexagonal.

One minute later, Howard made a kick save on Shahdon Winchester's short-range shot, and DeAndre Yedlin blocked Levi Garcia's follow-up attempt.

The U.S. bench was tense, as Honduras scored twice early in the second half to take the lead over visiting Mexico in the 60th minute and Panama tied the score against visiting Costa Rica in the 52nd.

Clint Dempsey, who entered at the start of the second half, was denied by goalkeeper Adrian Foncette's leaping save in the 69th and hit a post from 22 yards in the 77th. Pulisic's shot in the 87th was saved by Foncette.

All American reserves were standing for much of the final minutes, and Arena had repeated exasperated looks.

"No excuses for us not getting the second goal and at least a point," Arena said. "It's a blemish for us."

Just a few hundred fans were in the stands at 10,000-capacity Ato Boldon Stadium, located 24 miles south of the capital, Port-of-Spain. Paul Caligiuri's famous goal at the National Stadium in 1989 put the U.S. in the World Cup for the first time since 1950.

Among the spectators were a few dozen American Outlaws, the U.S. supporters group.

Water that had flooded the track surrounding the field ahead of the U.S. training session Monday was gone.