Quakes seek answers in players-only meeting

SAN JOSE, Calif. — There was no group hug after it was over. Nor was there any singing of “Kumbaya.”

Still, the San Jose Earthquakes’ players-only meeting this week may have helped the team iron out its problems of the last two weeks – both disappointing defeats – by uniting the club even more tightly in its hour of need.

“In a way,” Quakes defender Brandon McDonald told MLSsoccer.com, “it brought us together a little more.”

Accountability was one of the main topics in the locker room, which is in keeping with San Jose’s theme for the week. Players and coaches alike are searching to find why the Quakes have been strangely passive in losing 3-0 at New York and 2-1 at home to previously winless Chivas USA.

San Jose center back Bobby Burling, one of a spate of reserves who could be up for inclusion in Saturday’s lineup against Philadelphia if coach Frank Yallop follows through with his threatened shake-up, said the meeting allowed teammates to speak freely about each other’s performances without fear of damaging friendships.

“I’ve been playing sports since four or five years old and this is one of the tightest groups I’ve been a part of,” Burling told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s easy in that setting to come in and say, ‘OK, we need a meeting.’ It’s hard to call a friend out, but to get it off you in the right setting is what you need to do.”

Things reached a boiling point Saturday when the Earthquakes not only failed to deliver upon their promise of a rebound performance after being skunked in Red Bull Arena, but also became the first team in MLS this season to lose a game after leading.

Yet it’s not unusual to have such sessions, Burling said.

“This is my fifth year [in MLS] and I think I’ve had one of those every year,” Burling said. “Whether it’s ‘players-only’ or ‘captain’s meeting,’ whatever you want to call it, it’s just something that needs to be done, needs to be said. Nothing came out of it that wasn’t already known. It was just to harp on the little things and try to get the mentality back to where it was last year.”

That would be a 2010 season in which the Quakes earned a reputation for grit while posting 13 shutouts in 30 regular-season league matches. By comparison, San Jose have only one shutout in six games so far this year.

“I don’t want to keep being repetitive, but we’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror and figure out what we need to do as individuals to come together as a team and get these results,” McDonald said. “When you lose games and lose them [while playing] hard, then it’s not as bad. When you lose games where you don’t play well and don’t have the effort, then it’s bad.”

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes