San Jose's attack keeps opposing defenses guessing

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SAN JOSE, Calif. – With a league-leading eight goals out of San Jose’s 13 total to this point, it looks on the surface like forward Chris Wondolowski is simply continuing his run of single-handedly carrying his club’s offense for a third consecutive season.

Yet even though the end results in terms of who’s scoring the goals might be similar, the Earthquakes attack of 2012 is showing its greatest diversity since 2005. San Jose put up 53 goals in 32 matches that season en route to the franchise’s only Supporters’ Shield.

So even as Wondolowski continues to draw all the opposition’s talk in the press, it’s not so easy for teams like the Philadelphia Union – who host San Jose on Saturday evening (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online) – to suss out what the Quakes are planning to do.

San Jose have a league-leading 17 assists on their 13 goals – MLS allows for multiple assists on a single score, as in ice hockey – for a 1.31 assist-to-goal ratio, which would be the club’s best since 2002. Since being re-established in 2008 as an expansion team, the club’s numbers in that area have been as consistent as they were tepid: 1.03 (2008), 1.00 (2009), 1.03 (2010), 1.03 (2011).

This year’s model can bludgeon a team with Steven Lenhart or Alan Gordon, or try to slip a player such as Sercan Güvenisik – who probably will see time in the Quakes’ upcoming stretch of three matches in eight days –behind the opposition’s backline. And they can use any one of a number of midfielders to spark more involved sequences or fluid rushes off turnovers.

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“We have a lot of good players here, players that are good with the ball, players who like the ball at their feet and we have players that like to play one- and two-touch passes,” Quakes midfielder/forward Khari Stephenson said Saturday after notching a goal and an assist in a 3-1 victory against Real Salt Lake.

“If we need to play a lot of long balls, there’s Lenny and there’s Gordo that can win balls in the air and hold up the ball," Stephenson continued. "When you need something else, a lot of moving and touching and runs in behind, then it’s me and Wondo, Simon [Dawkins] and Tressor [Moreno].

“It all depends on what the coach wants. We have the players to play any style.”

The Quakes showed that Saturday against RSL, when they had to adjust on the fly to the absences of speedy wingers Shea Salinas (broken collarbone) and Marvin Chávez (suspension). With left back Ramiro Corrales out, coach Frank Yallop slid Justin Morrow wide to that side, and unleashed Morrow and right back Steven Beitashour to zoom along the flanks at will.

Morrow tormented RSL right back Tony Beltran for the better part of the first half, while Beitashour – who had been playing closer to home for much of the year to cover behind Chávez’s long runs – cleaned up with assists on the Quakes’ first two goals, doubling his season total to a team-high four.

“I’ve told both of them, I just want them to get forward as much as they can,” Yallop said Wednesday after training. “Can they run up and down all night? No. But Justin Morrow, I thought for 20 minutes was doing it, and then Steven did it late, so they kind of switched it off a little bit, which is great.”

The one constant in the Quakes’ various permutations has been to trying to play with more possession, something Yallop wanted to implement last season but couldn’t until the final 10 matches due to injuries and absences. The addition of Rafael Baca, who missed the first half of the season sorting out visa issues, has helped the club immensely in that pursuit.

“If you have the ball quite a bit, then the opposition tend to get disillusioned with what’s going on in the match,” Yallop said. “If you look at all the top teams – Salt Lake, LA last year – they possess the ball well. And I think that for us, the teams that do do well are usually ones that can keep the ball and can dictate what they want to do in the game. We’re just trying to do that ourselves. Whether we can do that all season, we’ve got a long, long way to go. But the signs are good.”

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