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11/30 9:00pm
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Eastern Conference Championship

Quakes look to plug defensive leaks

Heading into the 2005 season, the main concern for San Jose Earthquakes fans was how to replace the scoring punch provided by Landon Donovan and the calmness and control on the ball of center midfielders Ronnie Ekelund and Richard Mulrooney. But of all the offseason departures experienced by the Earthquakes, perhaps none has been felt more early in the season than the loss of center back and captain Jeff Agoos.

In its first two games of the season -- both at home -- San Jose has squandered a two-goal halftime cushion and a late one-goal advantage, having to settle for one point apiece against New England (2-2) and Club Deportivo Chivas USA (3-3) respectively.

"We brought in a lot of attacking-minded players in the offseason -- we've had some great pickups," said goalkeeper Pat Onstad. "Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a couple of games like this for guys to wake up and realize there's two sides of the ball."

"We're not pointing any fingers," added center back Troy Dayak, "but we're just not closing out games like we should, like an experienced team would."

Meanwhile, judging by Agoos' track record with the Earthquakes, it is no surprise that his new team, the MetroStars, shut out Real Salt Lake in a 0-0 in their only match so far in 2005. Even despite giving up the halftime lead against New England, San Jose boasts impressive streaks when leading at halftime (42-0-6) and when scoring first (47-3-5). Much of that success was accomplished on Agoos' watch.

Of course, they don't tend to keep stats on a team's record with a one-goal lead and just over 10 minutes to play, but that was the case last Saturday when the Quakes saw a 3-2 lead slip away to a late goal by Chivas USA center back Douglas Sequeira.

According to Dayak, who has taken over the primary leadership role along the backline with the departure of Agoos, the late set-piece goal was caused by a simple mistake in communication and execution.

"On free kicks against us, we have to get up higher and not let them be on top of our goalkeeper," said Dayak. "It makes it tough for Pat when a ball gets played in, takes a little flick and it's on goal.

"I take full responsibility for it for that late goal as a defender. I was trying to hold the line a lot today and it seemed like we would all stay [behind him]. It's something we haven't practiced, but I think it's something that we will."

Dayak, an eight-year MLS veteran, attributes much of the late-game struggles to the team's inexperience.

"We're still doing the see-saw thing as a team," he said. "We're going forward and we're coming back, but we're never going side to side as a team, keeping it, possessing it. That's just our inexperience as a team."

Davis free kick artistry: After scoring two goals in the season opener, the Earthquakes added three more on Saturday, all on set pieces off the left foot of midfielder Brad Davis. The first came just before interval when Davis curled in a near-post shot from the edge of the penalty area over the wall and into the net.

"Anything in that area looks inviting to me," said Davis, who stood on the ball next to right-footed option Ronald Cerritos. "I spoke with Ronald -- I didn't think I'd be able to get him off the ball -- but I told him I was feeling it so he let me take the shot. Luckily, it hit the back of the net."

The other two goals came in similar fashion, on crosses from the left side by Davis. On the first one, in the 75th minute, Dayak leapt at back post and lofted a header past Chivas USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Then just four minutes later, Davis found Ching for a lunging header and a brief 3-2 advantage.

"We work on positions and guys crashing. My job's just to put the ball in the box and their job is to make the hard runs," said Davis. "Luckily, they were doing that today and we got some points off it."

Danny Kadah is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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