Quakes left looking for answers after coming up empty

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Earlier this week, when San Jose Earthquakes defender Jason Hernandez described his club’s impending three-match homestand as “do or die,” he was hoping for more of the former and less of the latter.

The Quakes, however, could not comply.

Battered by injuries and hurt by suspensions, San Jose watched their seven-match home unbeaten streak come crashing down Saturday with a 2-0 loss to D.C. United, courtesy of a second-half brace from former Quakes star Dwayne De Rosario.

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The loss not only extended San Jose’s overall winless run to nine consecutive matches, it also delivered another kidney punch to the Quakes’ playoff hopes, which could have used a boost from playing in front of a sellout crowd.

Instead, San Jose — sporting a jury-rigged lineup featuring Ramiro Corrales pressed into emergency duty at center back and a forward tandem of Scott Sealy and Alan Gordon, making his first Earthquakes start — played like a team bereft of confidence for much of the evening.

The Quakes didn’t generate a shot on goal until the 40th minute and went through a similar drought for the first 35 minutes of the second half. Even with a man advantage following the 70th-minute ejection of DC midfielder Andy Najar, San Jose didn’t do much to scare United goalkeeper Bill Hamid.

The Earthquakes could find no easy answers, but did agree on one thing: It’s up to the players to find the answers within themselves.

“The bottom line is, we’re professionals,” Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch said. “We get paid to win [expletive] games. We’re not winning games. Enough is enough. You can’t say, ‘Oh, new players.’ We’re professionals. You have to find a way to win games.”

Hamstrung by the absence of potential starters such as Simon Dawkins (right hamstring strain), Hernandez (right calf strain), Steven Beitashour (right leg injury), Steven Lenhart (personal leave), Bobby Burling (suspension) and Brad Ring (suspension), coach Frank Yallop can’t engage in the kind of massive lineup reorganization that helped snap the Quakes out of their May funk.

“I thought we shied away from playing forward; when we did, we actually looked not bad,” Yallop said. “But you’ve got to have that desire for 90 minutes, and some of our guys take plays off, which is disappointing. We’re going to talk about it and address it, but it’s got to be in the players to be really fighting for their lives right now, and some guys didn’t tonight.”

The loss was made all the more difficult to swallow for the Quakes because they looked at halftime as though they would take at least a point out of the proceedings, if not notch their first win since June 11, when they beat up on a poorly organized D.C. United team, 4-2.

San Jose had come alive in the final 10 minutes of the first half, finally finding their footing with Gordon looking dangerous on the left flank and Chris Wondolowski nearly nodding in a 42nd-minute throw-in from Jacob Peterson which bounced through D.C. United’s six-yard box.

After intermission, however, it was De Rosario who took the game by the scruff of its neck, wreaking havoc on San Jose’s defense until the Earthquakes finally made a mistake. The Canadian star made Nana Attakora pay dearly for slipping to the turf while tracking a long lead pass from Najar, burying the ensuing chance with a quality finish from just outside the penalty box.

De Rosario added the coup de grace with a gorgeous one-timer sent zipping into the upper corner at the far post.

“That’s as close to a must-win tonight as you can get, without saying it’s a must-win,” Busch said. “It was there for the taking, it’s 0-0 at halftime. We talked about De Rosario being a game-changer. De Rosario changed the game in the second half. We didn’t. There’s no more excuses any more.”

For the Quakes, next week’s match against expansion Portland represents their last, best chance to pull a 180-degree spin and set themselves on a course for the six or seven wins Yallop thinks they still need to make the playoffs.

But Busch knows that won’t happen unless San Jose break their own cycle of self-destruction.

“Some days it’s just lack of energy,” Busch said. “Other days, it’s just silly mistakes. But it’s just a repeat every week. We put ourselves in bad situations.”

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