Following a 3-2 victory against Kansas City on April 23 at Spartan Stadium, San Jose Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear felt that his team's defense had finally come around. San Jose has not conceded a goal at home since.
The latest shutout came Wednesday night, as the Earthquakes downed a stubborn Colorado squad 1-0 on an 88th-minute goal from midfielder Dwayne De Rosario. The home shutout streak is up to a club-record 506 minutes, and San Jose has climbed into a second-place tie with the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS Western Conference, both teams with 24 points on the season.
The Earthquakes began the season by conceding at least two goals in each of the first five matches. Since that time, San Jose has allowed two goals only once, in a 2-1 loss at Los Angeles on May 21. Much of the team's success coincides with the return to health of center back Danny Califf, who missed the first eight matches of the season with an injured knee.
"I don't know really that there was a turning point," said goalkeeper Pat Onstad, who recorded his seventh shutout of the season. "I think Danny Califf has settled the back four, but most importantly, the guys have become comfortable with one another. It just took a little while to get going."
Although the back four has experienced a resurgence with Califf, the improved play of Eddie Robinson and Wade Barrett and the acquisition of right back Kelly Gray, the Earthquakes point to the entire system as the key to the defensive success.
"It's been a renewed commitment from back to front," said Califf. "Guys are going to roll up their sleeves and do the work. It has to be credited to every single guy on the field."
The system approach must continue with the news that forward Brian Ching is going to be out several weeks with a recurrence of the hamstring injury he initially suffered May 25 against FC Dallas. Ching reinjured his hamstring in a reserve league match last Sunday and is undergoing surgery on Thursday. With Brad Davis already gone with the U.S. national team in preparation for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and De Rosario heading out after Wednesday's game to join Canada, San Jose's depth will once again be tested.
One of the players the Earthquakes will be counting on is rookie forward Julian Nash, who helped set up the winning goal against Colorado. Nash received a ball from midfielder Brian Mullan and quickly returned it on a give-and-go, leading to a through pass that freed De Rosario for the winning goal.
"It's an amazing feeling to know that I did play some part in the victory tonight," said Nash, a true product of the new MLS reserve league system. "Playing in these reserve games, I feel like my game has definitely elevated."
"Julian's been playing well in the reserves," added Kinnear. "He creates a different look. He's a bit bigger, he can play with his back to goal. It was a very good two touches for him that led to the goal."
The match marked the return of Mullan, who missed five matches with a left ankle fracture. Mullan's play was inconsistent throughout, but he was able to summon the will to make a big play when the team needed it most.
"You could tell he hasn't played for a while, but all in all it was a good night for him," said Kinnear. "I credit him for getting that ball from Danny Califf, and his first thought is to go forward. And that's in the 88th minute for a guy that hasn't played in six weeks. It was a total shot in the arm and shows the guy's character."
Mullan returned to the starting lineup in place of Davis, who left to train with the U.S. team on Sunday.
"I was definitely winded, but I actually felt worse in the first half than I did in the second," said Mullan. "We weren't winning - you've got to go until the end."
Danny Kadah is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.