High, hard pressure paving way for Quakes' Shield run

Ramiro Corrales

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SAN JOSE, Calif. – That Steven Lenhart scored twice in the final 11 minutes of the San Jose Earthquakes’ 2-2 tie with English Premier League side Swansea last week is perfectly in keeping with the comeback character of this year’s MLS-leading Quakes team.

Yet there was something else that stamped the evening as a very San-Jose-in-2012 performance, even as coach Frank Yallop rested all but a couple of his regular starters.

When Sam Garza and Ramiro Corrales created first-half turnovers in Swansea’s defensive third that led to a legitimate scoring opportunity in each case, the Quakes showed that even with a patchwork XI on the field in an international friendly, they still retain their identity as a team that thrives on its intense defensive work rate.

While the style doesn’t lead the league in clean sheets – the Quakes’ 1.22 goals-against average ranks ninth out of 19 clubs so far – it has helped San Jose to a plus-17 goal differential, far and away MLS’ best mark in that category.

“In a 90-minute game, we play one way – we high press, we try to win the ball back in their defensive half and try to get an effort on goal,” Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “Although we may be a better possession team than we have been in the last few years, we’re more of a team that’s pretty direct: We get it wide, we get crosses in, we get chances. And I think that it comes from our pressure. It comes from us working as a unit.”

The engine of that unit is San Jose’s central midfield pairing, typically Rafael Baca and Sam Cronin. With the Quakes focusing so much of their attack on the flanks, opponents will often search for potential passing lanes in the middle of the pitch. That’s when San Jose’s wide midfielders and outside backs – roles that Garza and Corrales were filling against Swansea – pinch in to close down players and retake possession in dangerous areas.

With San Jose pretty much out of the woods in terms of schedule congestion, and no more road trips left to places such as Houston or Dallas, expect to see more of the same from the Quakes as they try to hold onto their lead in the Supporters’ Shield standings, which sits at two points with 11 matches remaining.

“You maybe can’t do it all the time because of conditions – i.e., when you’re away from home, or you may be a little tired with the heat or whatever – and that’s a little frustrating because our team’s set up to press and work hard and do all those things,” Yallop said. “At home, where the night’s always drawing a little cooler, we feel like we can play our game, which is at a high-tempo, with and without the ball.”

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