Earthquakes look to break out of recent skid vs. Union

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The last time the San Jose Earthquakes turned in a road performance of comparable listlessness as their 2-0 defeat Wednesday against Chivas USA, it was a 3-0 wipeout at New York on April 16.

San Jose followed up that Red Bulls mugging with a dreadful, come-from-ahead 2-1 loss to Chivas that drew boos of derision from the Buck Shaw Stadium faithful.

That’s why the Quakes are so set, heading into their home match Saturday against Philadelphia (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), on making sure this sequel doesn’t have the same ending.

“That is the worst we’ve played in nine games,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “You’ve just got to let it go. You can’t dwell on what’s gone by.”

You can learn from it, however, and it’s illustrative to check out San Jose’s recent strength of schedule. The Quakes, who currently hold 21 points from 17 matches, hoisted themselves up from last in the Western Conference table with a six-game unbeaten streak that covered all of May and into June. But all but one of those sides currently sit behind San Jose in terms of points per match.

Since then, San Jose have faced two teams who essentially stand even with San Jose (Sporting Kansas City also have 21 points from 17 matches; Chivas USA have 21 from 18) and the respective conference leaders (LA and New York). The Quakes are winless in those four matches, with more shutouts suffered (three) than goals (two).

So it bears asking: Is sitting tied for sixth in the West, and tied for 10th overall, about where the Quakes belong?

“We don’t spend money on players outside of our salary cap,” Yallop said. “I’d like to be 17-0 right now, but it’s a realistic position we’re in. We’re not the New York Yankees of the league.”

Facing the Union, who sit second in the East but have two games in hand on the Red Bulls, San Jose have another opportunity to recast themselves as a team with a higher ceiling.

To do that, the Quakes will have to figure out a new offensive scheme. Bruising forward Steven Lenhart will serve a one-game suspension due to yellow-card accumulation, so San Jose will go without a target man for only the second time in 18 matches.

Without Lenhart, Chris Wondolowski and Simon Dawkins (pictured above) will partner up top. They’ve started together in six matches, but in those previous instances, one man was tasked as an underneath forward floating behind either Lenhart or Ryan Johnson and the other played further back in a central midfield role.

“Maybe we’ll just have to change up our style of play,” midfielder Khari Stephenson said. “We’ll have to keep it on the ground, pass and move. We’ve shown many times we can do it.”

Dawkins is returning to the lineup after sitting out initially at Chivas USA before coming on at the half for Joey Gjertsen. Stephenson also is back as an attacking midfielder after suffering an ankle injury against New York.

The addition of two of San Jose’s best playmakers will, the Earthquakes hope, outweigh the absence of Lenhart and allow them to control the middle of the pitch.

“Simon and I are very comfortable on the ball,” Stephenson said. “We don’t get flustered when we have it and we like to go forward. Both of us like playing through the middle, and at times, that’s what you need in a game. You can always go wide and get a cross, but sometimes you need to try to penetrate through the middle, and that’s what both of us are good at doing.”

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