2 strikers might not be enough for league-leading Quakes

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Most people would find a coach practically certifiable if they considered messing with a team that currently tops MLS in almost any category you can name -- including wins, points and goals.

Frank Yallop of the San Jose Earthquakes might just be nuts if he doesn't consider making a change to the Supporters’ Shield leaders.

The Quakes have primarily used a fairly orthodox 4-4-2 formation while rolling to an 18-6-6 mark and a five-point advantage on Sporting Kansas City for the league’s top spot, with Alan Gordon or Steven Lenhart working as a target man and 22-goal scorer Chris Wondolowski floating underneath.

Yet there is an interesting statistical wrinkle: Yallop has had the triumvirate of Gordon, Lenhart and Wondolowski together on the pitch for 195 minutes (including injury time) spread over seven matches, and during that timeframe, San Jose have outscored their opponents by a cumulative count of 8-0.

Yallop is well aware of the numbers, which is why he and his staff have discussed the possibility of using all three from the opening whistle. There’s also a certain amount of lobbying going on.

“We definitely have been in his ear about it a little bit, suggesting that we like being out there at the same time,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com after training Tuesday. “We have an understanding for each other. We all three work hard and we all get in the box.

"When you have two big center backs, sometimes you can pick out each forward and say, ‘I got him, you got him.’ When there’s a third [forward] involved, does an outside back take him? Does the defensive midfielder take him? It just adds a little bit more chaos in there.”

To this point, the combination of Gordon, Lenhart and Wondolowski has been a key component in building San Jose’s “Goonies” persona. The three were on hand when the Quakes struck twice after the 82nd minute to beat Colorado 2-1 at altitude on June 20. And that trio worked their magic again last week as Wondolowski tallied a brace in the 73rd and 92nd minutes to tie Portland at two goals apiece.

Games where Earthquakes have used Gordon, Lenhart and Wondolowski together
DATE OPPONENT MINUTES (incl. stoppage time) GOALS
April 21  Real Salt Lake (H) 21 2 (Dawkins 92, Wondolowski 93)
May 13 Chivas USA (H) 18 1 (Gordon 88)
June 20 Colorado (A) 30 2 (own-goal 83, Wondolowski 92)
July 3 Portland (A) 35 1 (Gordon 74)
July 28  Chicago (H) 30 0
Sept. 19 Portland (H) 32 2 (Wondolowski 73, Wondolowski 92)
Sept. 22 Seattle (A) 29 0

“It’s something special,” Gordon said after tying the Timbers. “When I go on the field and I see Lenny next to me, and Wondo ... it’s just kind of a thing we have up top. We get fired up and we know we have the confidence about us. We know we’re going to do it. I thought we were going to get the winner, to be honest. That’s how confident we are.”

To get all three forwards on the pitch would lead to a considerable knock-on effect for the rest of San Jose’s lineup. The Quakes do not often go to three in the back, so Wondolowski would have to move into the midfield, requiring the benching of Rafael Baca, Marvin Chávez (when healthy) or Simon Dawkins.

“It’s just difficult with the shape that we have,” Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “All three of them are true strikers, if you look at them, and if you’re playing a 4-4-2, you can’t really play with three strikers.”

Yallop’s decision to bring on Lenhart in the 65th minute against Seattle in the Quakes’ 2-1 win Saturday marked an interesting shift in the power trio’s dynamic; for the first time all season, Yallop put the three together while the Quakes were leading, instead of being tied or behind – a potential indication that opponents will see that more regularly down the stretch and in the postseason, even if it’s only in the final 30 minutes or so of matches.

“What I like is that we can always go to that in games,” Yallop said. “To go out and say we’re going to do that for 25 games, I’m not sure it would work. To this point, it’s worked, what we’ve done.”

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