Tactical, personnel changes help San Jose Earthquakes keep clean sheet vs. Colorado Rapids

After four games and seven goals allowed, San Jose Earthquakes coach Mark Watson had seen enough.

His tactical and personnel changes Saturday helped his side come away with their first clean sheet of 2014 in a scoreless draw at Colorado.

Morphing the club’s tried-and-true 4-4-2 into move of a 4-1-4-1, Watson tasked Sam Cronin to serve as a defensive screen and had captain Chris Wondolowski float up from midfield whenever possible to join striker Alan Gordon.

The result? San Jose limited Colorado to just one shot on goal – even after going down to 10 men when substitute Adam Jahn picked up a red card in the 87th minute for a reckless challenge on Jared Watts.

“For tweaking things for the first time, I thought there was some improvement,” Watson told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “I thought defensively, we were pretty solid. There were some moments where I thought we moved the ball well and had the extra man in midfield. It’s definitely not a finished product yet, but I thought there were some good signs.”

The moves did not lead to San Jose’s first win; in fact, the Quakes went without an official shot on goal after their best chance – Gordon’s header from a corner kick in the first minute – crashed off the crossbar. But Watson was pleased enough with the results to say that he would consider using the formation again in the future, especially in light of the shutout and first point away from Buck Shaw Stadium this season.

“I think it’s a big deal,” Watson said of the clean sheet. “To get a point on the road anytime is a good result. . . . We had some pretty good moments to score some goals. I don’t know if there were too many shots on target, but we created some really dangerous situations just by our patience and our shape, looking for the moments to go forward.”

Watson also made four changes to his starting 11, including three players enjoying their first MLS starts of the season. Andreas Görlitz made his Quakes debut at right back, while Ty Harden deputized at left back for the unavailable pair of Jordan Stewart and Shaun Francis. In midfield, Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi and Cordell Cato made way for rookie JJ Koval, partnering with Wondolowski in the center of the pitch, and former Rapids winger Atiba Harris.

“He’s been good since Day 1 of preseason, and I thought he deserved an opportunity,” Watson said of Koval. “The situation presented itself, and I thought he played well. He’s definitely still a young guy with a lot of room for growth, but for his first [MLS] start, I thought overall he had a very good performance.”

The more pressing concern for the Quakes was watching their forward ranks dwindle precipitously. Gordon came off after appearing to hurt himself on a clearance in the second half, and came up limping again chasing a lead pass in the 78th minute, just before being substituted for Jahn.

Worst of all, Yannick Djalo, who looked so assured in the second half last week, lasted only 18 minutes off the bench before having to be pulled with an aggravation of his muscle tightness.

“I think Gordo will be alright,” Watson said. “Yannick had a hamstring issue again, which is something that he carried all week. He wasn’t able to train, but he felt really good and felt strong before the game. He played 15 minutes and he felt it again, so we had to take him out before he did any further damage, which was disappointing, because I thought he looked really bright and sharp when he came on.”