SANTA CLARA -- Scoring star Chris Wondolowski didn't start Wednesday night's Major League Soccer game against the surprising Portland Timbers.
But the league's best scorer sure knows how to finish as he recorded two goals in the final 17 minutes to save the Earthquakes' home unbeaten streak with a 2-2 draw in front of an announced crowd of 9,877 at Buck Shaw Stadium.
The thrilling finish also propelled the Quakes (17-6-6) as they head to Seattle on Saturday for a Western Conference showdown against the second-place Sounders.
"This will fire us up a bit," Wondolowski said. "It's almost playoff atmosphere."
Wondolowski scored on a header in extra time to salvage what had been a rough outing for first-place San Jose. The striker got his MLS-leading 20th and 21st goals of the season as a second-half substitute.
He is the first league player to score at least 20 goals in a season since Landon Donovan did it in 2008.
Wondolowski started the rally in the 73rd minute -- his first goal in the field of play since July 18 -- off a Steven Lenhart assist. It happened on a night that Wondolowski didn't start for the first time in two years.
"When I see someone come in it adds a little bit of a spark," he said. "That was my goal. I just tried to put 90 minutes into 30 minutes of play."
The last time the Danville striker didn't start when available was Oct. 20, 2010, against Chivas USA. He came off the bench that time
Coach Frank Yallop said he rested Wondolowski early because he believed the player had been playing tired in recent weeks.
After a dismal first half San Jose came together to extend its Buck Shaw unbeaten streak to 15 games dating to last season.
Wondolowski's individual effort offset a great run by Timbers forward Danny Mwanga. The league's top overall draft pick in 2010 scored two goals, but Portland (7-14-8) couldn't get its first road victory of the season despite holding a 2-0 lead. Mwanga has scored all three of his goals this season against the Quakes.
Enough went wrong to lead Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch to warn against a late-season letdown starting at Seattle.
"The second half was Earthquakes soccer," Busch said. "But in the first half we were a little lethargic, a little bit off. Everybody wants a piece of us because we're on top."
He was particularly upset when Portland almost scored after Wondolowski's second goal. The keeper and Lenhart made the key plays to prevent the game-winner by Portland.
"We were undisciplined quite a bit, especially at the end," Busch said. "It was a wake-up call."
Yallop felt much better about the result than his outspoken goalkeeper.
The victory "shows we're resolute, we're tough," the coach said. "No matter what happens in the match we can adapt."
With Wondolowski in the lineup the Quakes know anything can happen.
"He exhibited a little bit of emotion," Portland interim coach Gavin Wilkinson said.
But Wilkinson expressed disappointment over the officiating with a lot of physical plays throughout the game. The frustration spilled at the end with Timbers players getting into shoving matches with the Quakes.
San Jose's hard-nosed play has left many opponents seeing red this season. But the Quakes have brushed off criticism while leading MLS with 57 points.
"If there are any nonbelievers out there they should watch this game," striker Alan Gordon said. "It's not luck. It's no mistake."
Not anymore it isn't.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/elliottalmond.