Final surge gives Quakes optimism for next year

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The most dominant aspect of the San Jose Earthquakes' season was the club’s 13-match winless streak, a drought that stretched for nearly three full months from mid-June to early September.

Yet after that tempestuous slide, which poleaxed the Quakes’ playoff hopes, San Jose recovered their wits and spun some of their most effective and satisfying soccer of the year. And as they headed into a longer-than-hoped-for offseason, San Jose clung to the notion of building off that 3-2-3 finish.

“Yeah, definitely,” said second-year defender Justin Morrow, who took over the left back spot during the final weeks of the season. “It’s a credit to our whole team. We finished the season hard. No one quit. It’s definitely something to take into next season. I’m excited to go home and work during the offseason, get stronger. I think everyone will look inside themselves and see what they can do to make the team better and come back and do this right next year.”

There will be plenty of change in the air for San Jose, which have several key players out of contract — among them, forwards Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon and defenders Nana Attakora and Bobby Burling — and face another negotiation to keep midfielder Simon Dawkins, a Tottenham Hotspur property whose one-year loan deal is up.

But with youngsters such as Morrow, fellow second-year defender Steven Beitashour and rookie midfielder Rafael Baca making their mark during the Quakes’ final sprint, San Jose seem well-equipped to move forward from a 2011 campaign that fell well short of a playoff spot.

“Absolutely,” said 16-goal man Chris Wondolowski, who now holds the club’s top two single-season scoring totals. “I think we have a great core group of guys, and I think we can really build on that. One thing’s for sure: I think we’ll be even more motivated coming in, because we have a pretty bitter taste in our mouth right now.”

Coach Frank Yallop said he was “excited for next year” based on the team’s finishing form, but that more depth was needed to ensure the club could survive a spate of injuries and other absences like the one that helped derail this season.

Such additions could also help the Quakes become less predictable in their style of play. Rather than having to constantly depend on one or two key focal points in the attack, Yallop hopes in 2012 to be able to better mix and match tactics from week to week depending on the opponent.

Whoever winds up playing in a given game, goalkeeper Jon Busch — who is set to become the Quakes’ oldest player if André Luiz, as expected, cannot return from long-term knee problems — said San Jose must learn the lessons from a 8-12-14 season.

“There’s so much potential,” Busch said of his club. “I think the biggest thing we just have to realize for next year is, we just have to be consistent from game to game. We started doing it at the end there, but the most important thing for a successful team — you look at LA, what they did in the regular season — is just the consistency from one week to the next over 34 weeks. That’s the sign of a good team."