Two months ago, San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch threw down a gauntlet of sorts for his attacking teammates.
“I don’t think you can call it, ‘We’re unlucky’ anymore,” Busch said in the wake of the Quakes’ 1-1 tie with Toronto FC on April 9, San Jose’s third straight home match without a victory. “Somebody’s got to step up and bury chances.”
Let the record reflect that Busch’s call to action has been answered. And then some.
The Quakes remain a team based around coach Frank Yallop’s staunch defensive principles. Yet despite ranking 11th of 18 MLS clubs in terms of goals allowed per match, at 1.23, San Jose is above .500 for the first time all season and unbeaten in six straight games by virtue of leading the league in scoring.
After beating D.C. United 4-2 Saturday – the Quakes’ first four-goal road outburst since 2003 - San Jose are averaging 1.54 goals per match, a 36 percent jump over their 2010 output.
“It surprises me a little bit, because we’re not really setting ourselves out to be high-flying goal scorers,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “But it just shows our determination, that our guys want to get forward and try to score and try to win games. It’s a great spot to be in. We’ve just got to keep it going now.”
The Quakes clearly weren’t happy with their 2010 offense - 34 goals in 30 matches, 18 of those from Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski - as evidenced by the exodus of attack-minded players such as Cornell Glen, Arturo Alvarez and designated player Geovanni.
Yallop didn’t panic when San Jose opened this year with a mere seven goals in their first eight matches, trusting that acquisitions of Simon Dawkins and Steven Lenhart would eventually come to fruition. Lenhart had his first career MLS hat trick against D.C. United, while Dawkins scored for the fourth time in eight appearances.
“I never felt we weren’t going to score goals ever,” Yallop said after Saturday’s match. “As soon as you add Simon and Lenny to what we had with Wondo, we have guys who can score. Khari [Stephenson] has chipped in with a couple. And we’re always dangerous on set plays.”
Surprisingly, the Quakes have flourished without Wondolowski, tallying six goals in two games with him and teammate Ryan Johnson, an 11-goal scorer in ‘09, both on Gold Cup duty.
“We were always creating chances,” Busch told MLSsoccer.com. “We said that from Day One. It wasn’t like we weren’t creating, we just had to finish our chances. The past few weeks, we have, whether it’s been Wondo or Lenny or whoever else. Guys have made it a point to focus and finish our chances and it’s been great.
“Obviously, it takes a lot of pressure off the guys in the back when we know we’re getting a couple of goals a game. [Against DC], we needed them.”
In addition to the elevated totals, San Jose’s offense this year has featured a giant step forward in terms of its diversity. Last year, only three Quakes tallied more than one goal - Wondolowski with his league-high 18, followed by Alvarez and currently-injured defender Ike Opara with three each – and just five had more than one assist.
Barely more than a third of the way through this season, San Jose already has four players with multiple goals and 10 of them with two or more assists.
In being more diverse, the Quakes have become more dangerous as well.
“When teams have to try and stop more than one guy from scoring, it’s a good thing,” Stephenson told MLSsoccer.com. “They can’t just be focused on one guy, they have to watch two, three and four guys. If a guy’s not having a good night, someone else can step up. Wondo hasn’t been here, who everyone thinks is going to score all the goals, so we’ve had other guys that have picked up and done what the team has needed.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes