for this game

Cunningham's late goal boosts Dallas' playoff push

Oct 8, 2009 - 2:22 PM By GEOFF LEPPER STATS MLS Correspondent

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (STATS) - FC Dallas forward Jeff Cunningham knew what a tie Wednesday night would have meant to his team's fragile playoff hopes.

"It would have been done," Cunningham said. "The season would have been over."

Instead, thanks to Cunningham and his MLS-leading 17th goal, Dallas' late-season surge continued.

Cunningham assisted on David Ferreira's 49th-minute score, then put Dallas ahead for good in the 82nd minute of a 2-1 victory against the San Jose Earthquakes.

With a fourth win in its last five matches, Dallas (10-12-6) moved past idle Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC in the standings. Dallas is now two points off the pace for final playoff berth and has two remaining matches, both against higher-ranked teams it hopes to pass - Colorado and Seattle.

"We still have a little bit of breath in us to dream about a playoff opportunity," Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman said. "I wouldn't want to be the team that plays FC Dallas if we're in the playoffs."

San Jose rookie Quincy Amarikwa scored his first MLS goal in the 73rd minute to force a tie, and the match featured end-to-end action thereafter. Dallas threw waves of players forward in search of the go-ahead score, and once they had it, the Earthquakes (7-13-7) responded in kind.

San Jose put all 11 men in the box for an injury-time corner kick from Shea Salinas. His high cross found the head of San Jose goalkeeper Joe Cannon just as his opposite number, Dallas' Dario Sala, tried in vain to punch the ball away. But Dallas defender Jair Benitez cleared Cannon's attempt off the line to preserve the win.

"(Benitez) is a good player you don't really take notice of," Cunningham said. "Tonight, you see his importance on the end line for us."

Cunningham, who has scored five times in Dallas' last four matches to pass Colorado's Conor Casey for the league lead, enjoyed one of his easiest goals of this season Wednesday. He slotted the ball into an empty net after Dax McCarty - set free for a 2-on-1 break by a nice pass from Ferreira - slid the ball past a charging Cannon.

The Cunningham-Ferreira connection had worked in the other direction to put Dallas ahead early in the second half. Heath Pearce's pass was redirected from Cunningham to the feet of Ferreira, who dribbled past Cannon and scored with ease.

"The two of them have really been on the same page," Hyndman said.

Cunningham was turned away twice in the first half. In the ninth minute, he got behind the Earthquakes defense and rolled a shot past Cannon, but San Jose defender Brandon McDonald swept the ball off the line to save the goal. McDonald came up big again a minute later, blocking a Cunningham drive from inside the penalty box.

San Jose took control for the final 15 minutes of the first half and forced Sala to make two reaction saves. Sala used a right-footed kick save to turn aside a strong volley from Salinas in the 39th minute, then two minutes later got his lower body in the way of a flying header from Chris Wondolowski.

Sala made another critical stop in the second half, sprawling to his left in the 53rd minute to deflect a low shot stung from the top of the penalty box by a wide-open Antonio Ribeiro.

The last-place Earthquakes were officially eliminated from playoff contention with the defeat.

Dallas, meanwhile, fights on.

"We're playing hard, playing for each other," Cunningham said. "We still have the belief."