Armchair Analyst: San Jose's ascendance not a surprise

Lenny and Gordo with the Shield - Analyst

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MLSsoccer.com continues to take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.

2012 record: 19-6-9 (66 points); 72 GF / 43 GA (+29 GD)

2012 San Jose Earthquakes statistics

2012 in Review: San Jose Earthquakes

Q&A with San Jose's Frank Yallop

Opta Spotlight: The year of Wondolowski

WATCH: 2012 San Jose goals


There’s always the temptation, when a team goes from outside the playoff picture to the freaking Supporters’ Shield, to dismiss the whole thing as kind of a fluke. I mean, everything went right, right? There was nary a glitch, a bunch of stuff that shouldn’t have clicked did, and suddenly the team with one of the smallest salary budgets (not to mention stadiums) in the league is hoisting some serious silverware.

But – and I’m going to throw my arm out patting myself on the back here – this wasn’t a case of everything going right in 2012 so much as it was everything going wrong in 2011. And we tried to tell you on March to the Match, way back in early spring, that the Quakes were going to be really, really good. At or near the top of the Western Conference. A real playoff contender. I personally set Chris Wondolowski’s goals over/under at 25 on Twitter (I took the under).

The signs were there, in 2011, that this team was really close. But injuries, both physical and spiritual, robbed them of Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon. They didn’t have enough speed on the flanks to open games up. Wondo entered a hellacious slump after coming back from the Gold Cup. And they clearly needed one stud central defender to really make the whole thing work.

So I refuse to say it was a surprise that the Quakes took the 2012 Supporters’ Shield, their first major trophy since being reborn in 2008. It’s a team that’s been built methodically over the past four years, and when people as clever and pragmatic as Frank Yallop and John Doyle are given that kind of room, they tend to get things done right.

“Pragmatic” is the key word for the Quakes, by the way. They don’t try to do anything fancy – they just get either Gordon or Lenhart to the near post and make you play them. That means Wondo’s at the back post, and he’s going to make three different runs and bluff two more, and even a guy as experienced as Y.P. Lee gets thrown by movement like that.

Oh, and if you overplay the cross then Simon Dawkins is going to cut inside and rip one past you. Or Marvin Chávez. Or Shea Salinas, when he’s not being kicked by Rafa Márquez. Or promising rookie Sam Garza, who will play significantly more minutes in 2013.

About the only thing San Jose didn’t do enough of was generate offense from the central midfield combo of Sam Cronin and Rafael Baca. Cronin, you can’t really blame – he’s a d-mid first and foremost, a guy who makes the pass two passes before the pass you remember, covers ground and wins every second ball. Baca, the more attacking-minded of the two, is the same heady, cerebral player as Cronin, but with better vision and touch.

GOAL: Wondo flicks home the winner

Problem is he doesn’t shoot straight. Or at all, really. For the Quakes to continue progressing, he’ll need to become more of a direct offensive threat, alleviating some of the pressure on the flankers and forwards.

But it’s a minor quibble, considering San Jose were the first team since 1999 to score more than 70 goals, and had the third-best goal differential (+29) in league history. They were really, really good.

What they really need in 2013, aside from a bit more from Baca, is better luck with injuries. Regulars Chávez, Salinas, Gordon, Lenhart and Víctor Bernárdez all missed big chunks of time. Mehdi Ballouchy added value in possession before blowing his ACL. Just when Garza was on the verge of breaking through, he broke his foot. Steven Beitashour played the whole second half of the season with a sports hernia. Five of those guys – Gordon, Lenhart, Garza, Ballouchy and Beitashour – have already gone under the knife this offseason.

Other than that, there’s no reason to think the Quakes won’t make a serious run at their second straight Shield. Yes, you generally know what they’re going to do – 4-4-2, a million crosses, murder on set pieces and the occasional Dawkins golazo.

But just because you know it’s coming doesn’t mean you can stop it. If there was one overriding theme of the 2012 MLS regular season, that was it.