Seth Vertelney: San Jose's wild ride shows no sign of slowing down

Goonies (and the Earthquakes) never say die, and the Bay Area squad's late heroics could carry it all the way to a MLS Cup.
It's happened so many times now, that it almost seems inevitable.

The San Jose Earthquakes are trailing or tied late in a game, and start to push for that crucial goal. Their opposition begins to retreat, hoping to bunker in and stave off the spells of pressure, but the effort is almost always in vain.

As sure as the sun rises in the east, and Merritt Paulson goes ballistic on Twitter, San Jose will find the late goal it needs.

After a comeback win in May, forward Steven Lenhart first introduced the phrase that would become the unofficial official motto of the 2012 Earthquakes: “Goonies never say die,” a reference to the 1985 cult-classic movie.

Unlike kids' movies, however, professional sports don't always produce storybook endings. For the 2012 version of the Goonies, the big question heading into the playoffs is this: will relying on so many late comebacks cause this group to eventually, well, die?

“We're not lucky, we're good at it,” Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop said to about his team's late comebacks. It's hard to argue with him. Consider:

  • In 31 matches this season, the Earthquakes have scored 21 goals after the 76th minute. By comparison, Chivas USA has scored 21 goals total in 31 matches.
  • San Jose has 12 game-winning or equalizing goals in the 82nd minute or later this season.
  • San Jose has scored nine goals in second-half stoppage-time in 2012, a league record.
  • Without their nine second-half stoppage-time goals, the Earthquakes would have 13 fewer points, and would be in fifth place in the Western Conference.

So how do the Earthquakes consistently pull a rabbit out of their hat?

“We change our game,” Yallop said. “We get the ball forward so early and we challenge everything and I think that makes it difficult for teams.

“I think it comes from team spirit and belief that we can get back in any game and from any situation, and do our thing.”

Besides the tangible issue of the league's top team throwing everything it has at an opponent, an element of psychology has also crept into the picture. After so many late-game fightbacks, San Jose's opposition now seemingly braces for the worst, instead of expecting the best.

“I think it's in the minds of the teams we play. 'Uh oh, it's getting late, and they're going to come at us,' Yallop said, putting himself in his opponent's shoes. “And they start to kind of sit back and think they're going to get at us. And I like that.”

The Earthquakes have become remarkably adept at rescuing games late, but wining in this fashion can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, the team has the belief and knowledge that it can score at any time, but on the other hand, San Jose has found itself in desperate situations more often that it would prefer.

When asked if his team's penchant to leave it late is a concern heading into the postseason, Yallop answered simply: “No. Not at all.

“I think we're good enough to score any time. We've scored 65 goals, you can't score all those in the first 60 minutes of games, that's for sure,” the coach said.

With a league-high 65 goals, the Earthquakes have 10 more than the team with the second-highest total, but with nearly a third of those 65 coming in the game's final 15 minutes, the team is still heavily reliant upon late heroics.

Though winning late is always thrilling, Yallop and his team would certainly prefer some more run-of-the-mill victories as the season winds down and the playoffs approach. If the need for late heroics strikes in the postseason though, there isn't a team you'd rather bet on.

“Would I like to be in those situations all the time? No,” Yallop said. “But we don't worry about it because we've always come back and done okay.”

Follow SETH VERTELNEY on or shoot him an email