Makeshift forward line unable to spark sputtering SJ offense

Houston Dynamo vs. San Jose Earthquakes

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On a night where 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski was held to a single half-chance, the San Jose Earthquakes’ offense Saturday rested on the shoulders of midfielder-turned-emergency-forward Khari Stephenson.

Stephenson delivered his fourth goal of the season, rifling home a sideways right-footed volley from 12 yards in the 40th minute to put San Jose ahead 1-0 on fellow MLS playoff hopeful Houston.

But the goal came only after the 30-year-old Jamaican international failed to convert a one-on-one opportunity in the eighth minute, jamming his on-the-run, left-footed attempt into the chest of Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall.

WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: HOU 2, SJ 1
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And Stephenson’s shot from the top of the box following a 71st-minute turnover by Houston midfielder Adam Moffat sailed wide right. Nine minutes after that miss, Dynamo rookie Will Bruin scored his fifth goal of the season, cementing a 2-1 defeat that effectively, if not mathematically, ends the playoff dreams of the Quakes (6-11-11).

Given that Stephenson is best suited to play as an attacking midfielder, where his long-range shooting ability and passing vision gets maximized, isn’t it unfair to expect more from him as he fills in for absent target forwards Steven Lenhart (family leave of absence) and Alan Gordon (surgery to repair three torn muscles)?

“Not at all,” Stephenson said. “I think the coaches put me out there because they feel I can do a good job. ... I scored a goal tonight and I probably should have had two more. It is not my natural position, but I feel as if I have the qualities (to play forward) and I should be able to put away those chances.”

With Wondolowski unable to extend his personal scoring streak to three consecutive games, San Jose were left bemoaning their inability to put Hall to the test more often.

“Not the best night for me all around,” Wondolowski said. “Houston did a great job tonight. We didn’t create a whole lot of opportunities, and the ones that I did get on the end of I didn’t do a good enough job of converting.”

It was a night that once again followed a well-worn script for San Jose: taking a lead, only to find themselves incapable of either seeing out a one-goal lead or finding a second goal to extinguish the opponent’s hope. The loss dropped the Quakes’ record when scoring first to just 5-3-3; San Jose’s winning percentage in such situations (.591) is dead last in MLS.

After a 2-0 victory against Chicago last weekend, in which the Quakes came out on the attack in the second half rather than playing 11 behind the midfield stripe, San Jose had no chance to do the same Saturday after Bobby Burling was whistled for taking down Brad Davis just seconds after intermission.

Davis converted the ensuing penalty, and San Jose had lost their momentum, but to coach Frank Yallop’s eye, the die was cast before that, when San Jose didn’t cash in on earlier openings.

“If you look at the quality of chances, we had a couple of breakaways we should have done better on, especially in the first half,” Yallop said. “We had enough chances to score more than one goal.”

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