SJ's 3-striker lineup may be direct, but it's proven effective

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman did little to disguise his feelings regarding the fashion in which his club was forced to surrender a pair of second-half leads against the San Jose Earthquakes this past Saturday.

“It’s just knocking balls into the box,” Hyndman said after the Quakes forged a 3-3 tie on the back of Steven Lenhart’s 95th-minute equalizer. “Continue knocking balls into the box, and if you don’t get to the first ball, you’ll get to the second one. … To be up twice and to give up goals of that nature, it’s [expletive].”

But for all the fulminating over San Jose’s physical nature, Hyndman’s criticisms masked something that opponents have been missing for much of the year: Even the Quakes’ perceived bullies have a more delicate side, one that has helped target men Lenhart and Alan Gordon join forces with MLS leading scorer Chris Wondolowski to form the league’s most dangerous attacking trio. San Jose now have 10 goals in 239 minutes with the threesome on the pitch together.

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If you discount the Quakes’ quality just because they play more directly when needing a goal late in matches, you do so at your own peril.

“It’s not like we’re just lumping it forward and hoping for the best, chipping in to guys that don’t care about heading the ball,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “With Alan and Lenny, we’re putting it in to some people who want to challenge and fight and knock balls down to each other. They’re not just flicking it on and crashing, they’re trying to find each other in the box. Although it’s Route 1-looking, it’s effective.”

In addition to his career-high 13 goals this season, Gordon now has seven assists – matching his personal best – including the last pass on each of Lenhart’s two equalizers against Dallas, in the 82nd and 95th minutes, respectively.

The first assist was a perfectly placed layoff that allowed Lenhart to take a running start before slamming a shot from 18 yards with the outside of his left foot, cleanly beating Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.

On the point-saving play, Gordon knew he was too far toward the near sideline to get an accurate header on target, so he flicked it on to the far post, where Lenhart “dunked it,” in Gordon’s words, with a header of his own.

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“I think Gordon and Lenhart are very underrated with their touch,” Wondolowski said. “They can definitely bang with the best of them, be physical, fast and powerful, but they have a bit of class as well.”

Wondolowski has matched Gordon on seven assists, and Gordon thinks he deserved No. 8 for the work he did on Gordon’s 24th-minute goal against Dallas. Wondolowski dragged Dallas’ only defender to the near post, then completed a scissoring dummy to leave Marvin Chávez’s curling lead pass untouched. The ball bent into the path of an onrushing Gordon, who tapped home easily.

“Here’s a guy that has 22 goals, he’s the best goalscorer in the league, and he has the awareness to step over the ball and know that I’m open, to have confidence in me,” Gordon said. “He should get an assist for that, to be honest, because he made everything possible. Anybody else would just try to shoot that and put it over the goal.”

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