The search for what will change the San Jose Earthquakes’ offensive fortunes continues.
With head coach Frank Yallop serving a one-game suspension, assistant Mark Watson led the Quakes into battle against the Columbus Crew on Saturday evening. Neither Watson’s in-game leadership nor the immediate insertion of Jacob Peterson —acquired Thursday as part of a three-player haul from Toronto FC—at right midfield could keep San Jose from suffering a fifth shutout in their last six MLS matches.
The superlative work of Jon Busch in goal meant the Quakes could come away with a well-earned road point via a scoreless tie with Columbus.
But if San Jose is going to repeat as a playoff participant for a second straight year, they’ll eventually have to score some goals. And time is running out to wait for it to happen at home, where MLS teams expect to pick up the bulk of their victories.
“We feel good about getting the point on the road in the end,” Watson said. “There were chances at both ends, but nobody could get that first goal. Both teams worked hard and created enough opportunities to score and, on another night, it might have been a 2-2 game.”
The optimists in San Jose’s camp will point to the Quakes’ near misses Saturday, and there were certainly some oh-so-close moments.
Khari Stephenson beat Columbus keeper Will Hesmer from distance in the first minute, only to see the shot bounce off the outside of the right post.
Simon Dawkins watched Hesmer push his 30-yard, 38th-minute attempt over the crossbar, then was denied by Hesmer’s left foot in the 61st after latching onto a Busch punt that had bounced through Columbus’ defense.
Hesmer came up at his biggest in the 75th minute, stretching and leaping to barely deflect Chris Wondolowski’s back-post header off Rafael Baca’s curling cross from the right wing.
Wondolowski’s reaction, captured by TV cameras, was one of sheer frustration on a night full of it for the 2010 Golden Boot winner.
With Peterson on the right and former left midfielder Ryan Johnson sent to Toronto FC in exchange, Wondolowski flopped sides to the left wing. Wondolowski worked hard to be a facilitator and on his defensive responsibilities, but was too isolated offensively to find any more chances at breaking his post-U.S. national team duck.
Exhibit A: Wondolowski’s only other shot on goal was taken from well outside the penalty box and corralled easily by Hesmer.
That fact was indicative of San Jose’s night as a whole, which featured precious little in the form of combination play between San Jose’s front six.
“We didn’t play our best and sometimes when that happens, you just have to bear down and get a result,” Quakes defender Chris Leitch said. “We did that tonight. It would have been nice to have grabbed three points at the end, but we will take point and move forward.”
History has shown that it’s not too late to rediscover the kind of scoring touch San Jose showed in May and the first half of June, when they tallied 14 goals in six matches.
With 13 matches left last year, Wondolowski was sitting on six goals and hadn’t scored for 508 consecutive minutes. He broke through in the 35th minute against Kansas City, opening the floodgates on a sensational scoring spree -- 12 goals in those final 13 games, during which time San Jose went 7-4-2 to earn their first playoff spot since being reestablished in 2008.
San Jose has 15 matches remaining this season. The search resumes Wednesday against Vancouver.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes