SANTA CLARA -- The Earthquakes sent a relentless wave of shots at the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night in a Major League Soccer game they all but had to win.

But those 22 shots landed safely out the net in a 0-0 tie in front of an announced crowd of 10,525 at Buck Shaw Stadium.

In an inspiring defensive performance, the Whitecaps (10-10-8) turned back San Jose despite losing three center backs in two days because of injuries.

"This was a must-win for San Jose," Vancouver coach Martin Rennie said. "It was like a playoff game."

While the 'Caps felt good about earning a point, it was a disappointing effort by the Quakes (10-11-8), who have only five MLS games left to recover while sitting at 38 points.

The Earthquakes, who ended a six-game home win streak, know what's wrong: goal production. The team has scored only four times in the past eight games.

"We should have done better," midfielder Corello Cato said. "We have to score: it's that simple."

His words echoed throughout the locker room on a night U.S. national team defender Clarence Goodson missed an open shot inside the six-yard line in the 18th minute.

San Jose remained in a seventh-place tie with the equally desperate Whitecaps even while extending their home unbeaten streak to 14 games.

Despite the unsatisfying result, the Quakes say they can make the five-team Western Conference playoffs. But it was equally clear they expected to move up the standings with a victory Saturday night.

"It's a letdown to get a tie," striker Alan Gordon said.

Chris Wondolowski and Gordon paired well up front but a steady wall of Vancouver defenders kept them at bay.

"You're so close but you just can't get it in," Gordon lamented. "They were really good in the air and at marking."

Wondolowski, as usual, blamed himself after failing to convert on two promising chances in the 55th and 61st minute. The Quakes' leading scorer took seven of his team's shots.

Vancouver, meanwhile, extended its winless streak to five games but got a point on the road thanks to a tremendous defensive effort by Carlyle Mitchell. He needed to step up after center back Brad Rusin re-injured an ankle in the 31st minute and had to come out.

Rennie then surprised Vancouver fans by sending in Jay DeMerit, who made his first appearance since opening weekend when he tore an Achilles' tendon. Rennie didn't have many other options with his other center backs injured.

"When Jay came in I didn't see any rust from him at all," Gordon said.

But the former U.S. defender almost was part of the game's definitive moment in the 86th minute. DeMerit tried to clear a deep free kick from Marvin Chavez that went off Vancouver's post in what could have given the Quakes the victory.

Instead, it bounced harmlessly away.

It was that kind of night, and that type of season.

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.

tuesday's game

Earthquakes at Montreal (CONCACAF Champions League), 7 p.m.