It was brought to my attention the other day that when the Quakes took the field against D.C. United last Saturday night, there was only one player on the field who was a full-time starter for San Jose in 2004. While it's true there were a couple of part-time starters on the field in Dwayne De Rosario, who started 12 times last season and Eddie Robinson, who started six times before being injured, goalkeeper Pat Onstad is the only man who started this past weekend who was a regular starter for the Quakes in 2004.
And you wonder why the Quakes have had a difficult time putting a run together in 2005?
Through injury, trade and attrition, the Earthquakes coaching staff has been forced to remake this team almost weekly. Certainly the club misses the offensive explosiveness and creativity of Brian Ching and Brian Mullan, both of whom may be back in a matter of a couple of weeks. And the team misses the leadership and toughness of Troy Dayak and Craig Waibel, both of whom are gone for the season; in the case of Dayak he is forced to retire on the injured list. (Dayak will be busy as the coach and general manager of the new MISL team in Stockton and aspiring broadcaster Waibel may pop up on your radio dial one of these days.)
The good news of this last stretch of 1-0 and 0-0 games is that Onstad's goals-against average is plunging rapidly. In April, his GAA was 2.20, in May 0.60 and a promising 0.00 in June. So when the Quakes play Chivas USA at The Home Depot Center on Sunday night, I wouldn't bet on a replication of that 3-3 game the teams played in April in Spartan Stadium.
However, I would bet on the further development of the young center backs, Robinson and Danny Califf, who along with Wade Barrett and Chris Aloisi on the outside, have helped put the clamps on opposing teams, both at home and on the road. With this group of four starting in front of Onstad, the Quakes have allowed one goal in the last three games. It has been an interesting path to starting for the Quakes for this 'Gang of Four': Robinson is back from an injury suffered last year, Califf from the Galaxy and off-season knee surgery, Barrett back from two years in Scandinavia and Aloisi rescued from the end of the Galaxy bench.
"The guys are ready to play and they know what is expected of the defenders," said Quakes head coach Dominic Kinnear. "When they're not playing, they're paying attention to what is being said and coached at training."
Califf started 95 games in his five years in Los Angeles. Robinson - for a variety of reasons - has never started more than 16 games in his Quakes career, which began in 2001. In 2005, the only thing that has kept Robinson out of the lineup is a red-card suspension.
"Eddie is taking a more serious approach to his game," Kinnear said. "I think he is training better and it adds to the way he's playing."
The center backs appear to be on their way to a fine pairing.
"I wouldn't say mid-season form yet," said Califf. "I think that we have come together relatively quickly but there are still a lot of little things that we can square away between us. Knowing each other's tendencies and being able to read each other without even looking. Just knowing where the other person is going to be and the way they are going to react to certain situations and that just takes time."
There are few center backs in the league with more athletic ability than Robinson, who celebrates his 27th birthday next week.
"I've always been a fan of Eddie's," said Kinnear, who came to San Jose as an assistant to Frank Yallop the year Robinson joined the Quakes. "I think sometimes he gets too excited when he's playing. I find he's one of the tougher center backs in the league. He's good in the air, he has great pace and he is tough to beat one on one."
While the current group of starters, including very experienced players like Ronald Cerritos and Mark Chung, learns to play together, you can be sure they feel the loss of the guys who are gone.
"We really miss the quality of guys who got injured," said Califf.. "In order to win, we have to roll up our sleeves and be a blue-collar team and get it done through hard work and heart as opposed to always skating by on pure talent."
That kind of thinking is right out of the Yallop/Kinnear handbook.
John Shrader has been the voice of the Earthquakes since 1996 and has worked in television and radio in the Bay Area for the past 20 years.