Quakes unable to break down shorthanded LA defense

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch undoubtedly spoke for many of the franchise-record 10,872 in attendance at Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday when he assessed the Quakes’ chances against an LA Galaxy team down a man and playing forward Mike Magee in net for the final 47 minutes.

“I think a betting man would have put the house on us getting a goal,” Busch said.

But there are no sure things in soccer — not even with a guy making his first-ever competitive appearance as a ‘keeper — as San Jose proved by coming up empty in a 0-0 tie against the Galaxy.

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Outside of Bobby Convey’s shot from distance two minutes into the second half, San Jose didn’t test Magee until the final 10 minutes of the game — by which time the Galaxy’s defense had bunkered down to preserve the draw.

This could be the start of a disturbing trend. San Jose now have played 96 minutes of 11-on-10 soccer this season — they were up a man for 49 minutes in Philadelphia on April 30 — and have a grand total of five shots on goal, with no scores, to their credit.

That’s only a 5.3 percent increase over San Jose’s usual rate of notching shots on goal. Most Quakes fans would probably testify that San Jose were the ones playing shorthanded.

“It really isn’t any different when you play against 11 or 10,” Convey said. “They really just have no outlet, so we have more of the ball. We have to learn to break them down a little bit more.”

There’s no overestimating the job done by LA’s defenders, who officially received credit for blocking seven shots, three with Magee in net.

“Our defense has been amazing,” Magee said. “If it wasn’t for our defense, I probably would have let in about six or seven.”

It didn’t help that San Jose’s most utilized style of late — long balls knocked down by target man Steven Lenhart — played right into the Galaxy’s hands. With LA compressing the center of the field, Simon Dawkins — whose absence in Philadelphia was cited by Quakes coach Frank Yallop as one explanation for San Jose anemic offense in that contest — didn’t have room to boss the ball and create passing lanes.

“Their game plan in the second half worked, and ours probably didn’t, really,” Yallop said. “We wanted to spread the play, get crosses in, get shots off and for whatever reason, we didn’t get the ball moving as much as we normally do.”

That’s what Convey — who returned to the right wing after two months spent at left back — tried to ignite, but not enough of his teammates followed suit on a warm afternoon at Buck Shaw.

“You could see that maybe we lost a little bit of steam in the second half,” Convey said. “It’s something that I wanted to do, just push everyone on, try to get on the ball and play faster, get it wide and get crosses in.”

Yet as bad as the lack of pressure against Magee was, it also masked the Quakes' inability to score before the Galaxy lost first-string ‘keeper Donovan Ricketts. Dawkins pinged the far post just 19 seconds into the match, and Ricketts put up saves on Dawkins, Bobby Burling and Ryan Johnson in a 30-second span bridging the fourth and fifth minutes.

“They felt hard done obviously by the red card, so they came out with a bit of an edge to their game in the second half,” Convey said. “Saying that, I think we should have scored two or three goals in the first five minutes. If that goes in, it’s a different game.”

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