With their back four finally healthy, San Jose Earthquakes aim to continue defensive lockdown

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Defensively speaking, the San Jose Earthquakes have hit their stride. Now, with the added bonus of health, they’re looking to extend their stretch of goal-free play Saturday on the road against the Vancouver Whitecaps (7 pm ET; MLS Live in US, TSN2 in Canada).

Last weekend, the Quakes were able to run out what arguably is their first-choice back four for the first time all season: Jordan Stewart on the left, Andreas Görlitz on the right and Víctor Bernárdez and Clarence Goodson in the middle. That group helped limit Chivas USA to just three shots on goal as San Jose posted a 1-0 victory and ran their clean-sheet streak to 226 minutes, the longest active mark in MLS.

“I just think that we’re slowly starting to get going,” Quakes coach Mark Watson said this week as his team prepared to kick off a run of three matches in eight days. “And that’s a big step for us, to be tough to break down. It’s something that we’ve always kind of prided ourselves with, and we didn’t really get there to start the season.”

The defensive stand – which started in the second half of a 1-1 tie against the Columbus Crew on April 13 and continued with a scoreless draw at the Colorado Rapids the following weekend – rekindles memories of the Quakes’ run out from 2013, when San Jose ended the year with a 431-minute shutout streak. That stretch finally ended in stoppage time of a meaningless season finale.

“Last season, at the end of the season, when we had that run of success, we weren’t scoring that many goals, but we were keeping a lot of goals out of the back of the net,” Quakes winger Shea Salinas said. “Until we can start scoring three or four goals a game, our defense has a lot of pressure to keep the ball out of the net. And when I say ‘defense,’ it’s really all 11 guys. We’re all working defensively.”

Being stout defensively doesn’t take the pressure off San Jose’s attackers, who have yet to find their own rhythm after dropping three goals in the season opener against Real Salt Lake.

“We always want to score goals” Salinas said. “That’s in the back of our minds, while we’re attacking. We’re thankful that our defense has kept us in the game, but we’re also frustrated that we’re not doing our jobs very well.”

The Quakes will hope to change that in rapid fashion, since this crowded week will be the final time national teamers Bernárdez (Honduras) or Goodson (US) are likely available to San Jose until after the World Cup.

To that end, San Jose are slowly regaining their health in other areas of the pitch. Winger Yannick Djaló lasted 45 minutes against Chivas USA as the Quakes look to carefully work him into the starting lineup.

And target man Steven Lenhart is mending after suffering a sprained knee ligament, although Watson said he will not feature against the Whitecaps and is “very unlikely” to play Wednesday against Colorado or May 10 vs. FC Dallas.

“There’s been progress,” Watson said of the team’s health as a whole. “We’ve still got little injuries, which is normal, but I wouldn’t say it’s where it was earlier in the year, where we had serious issues. It’s a nice thing. Guys are getting healthier and the group’s starting to come together.”