Aiming for the opposition’s head during a free kick — a trainer once told San Jose Earthquakes defender Victor Bernárdez in his native Honduras — increases one’s chance to score.
But usually, the opponent moves for cover.
Sunday in the final moments of stoppage time in the opening leg of the Western Conference semifinals in Los Angeles, Bernárdez took a free kick.
And Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, likewise, moved for cover.
“Every time I line up for a free kick, it’s to score,” said Bernárdez, whose winning goal squirmed through the dodging defender and ultimately under the keeper.
But with that score — curious as it was — the Quakes enter today’s Game 2 at Buck Shaw Stadium with a 1-nill goal advantage over the defending MLS Cup champions. An Earthquakes win tonight would oust Los Angeles and advance San Jose to the Western Conference final. Yet despite not losing at home since mid-August, coach Frank Yallop’s club is weary of the dangerous Galaxy.
“They have so many weapons,” Earthquakes keeper Jon Busch said. “And this is a one-game only thing. It does not matter what’s happened here in the past. It only matters what happens [tonight].”
One of those weapons is striker Robbie Keane. The Irishman nearly vaulted Los Angeles ahead Sunday with a strike off the San Jose crossbar in the second half.
“Sometimes you need a little luck,” Busch said. “When we needed that little bit of luck off the crossbar, it was there for us.”
Lucky or not, Sunday was San Jose’s fifth stoppage-time win of the season. But again settling for a stoppage-time chance is something the Earthquakes will look to avoid.
“If we sit in for 90 minutes, it’ll be a nightmare,” Chris Wondolowski said. “That’s definitely not our game plan.”
The plan, like in the first leg, is to attack and shun sitting on a lead.
“We’re just going to play the way we play,” Yallop said. “Any game is hard, but playing against the champions makes it a little bit harder. I think it’d be a great feather in our cap — if we can do it.”
San Jose is halfway there, courtesy of Bernárdez, who labored and grimaced through an injured leg in the second half.
“I don’t even know how I kicked,” he said. “It was just the will to come out ahead, the hunger to succeed in this league.”