SAN JOSE, Calif. — With Bobby Convey and Joey Gjertsen flanking the midfield and Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour lining up as outside backs last weekend against the LA Galaxy, the San Jose Earthquakes put forth arguably their quickest quartet of wing players this season.
While the outcome was still 2-0 in LA’s favor, the fact that San Jose were able to generate attacks from either sideline was a little bit of hope to cling to in the midst of a 12-match winless streak.
“I thought our fullbacks and two wide guys did good,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “We got the ball wide at the right times and the fullbacks joined in.”
In terms of possession, it was a solid match for all the members of the Quakes’ midfield, which had to be jury-rigged due to the absence of Yallop’s preferred central pairing of late: Brad Ring sat out with a right shoulder sprain and Sam Cronin was serving a one-game suspension. In their place came Rafael Baca, who hadn’t seen much time after an ineffective match on the wing against Real Salt Lake last month, and Ramiro Corrales, who has been pretty much entirely a left-sided player in his second stint with the Quakes.
San Jose’s ability to boss the ball in central midfield opened up the wings for Yallop’s crew. Convey (pictured above) and Gjertsen would often drive the ball deep into Galaxy territory before cutting it back inside, or they would find Morrow and Beitashour driving down the sidelines. Gjertsen had what Yallop considered the Quakes' best chance of scoring in the 57th minute when he ran onto a threaded through ball from Corrales, took a touch to clear space from Todd Dunivant but pulled his shot from 18 yards just wide of the far post.
“I liked it,” Yallop said of the Baca-Corrales pairing. “I thought we possessed the ball well. With Convey and Joe, I thought we did a nice job of really controlling the ball.”
That kind of dominance, or at least an ability to hold their own, has been rare for the Earthquakes this season. Undoubtedly, the fact that LA featured Juninho and David Beckham — two offensive-minded players not known for their defensive traits — played a part in San Jose’s sudden ability to go toe-to-toe in terms of possession with the Galaxy.
“They weren’t trying to stop us from playing,” Yallop said. “It was, ‘We play, you play.’ And I think our guys enjoyed it. … The only problem is those real good chances. We didn’t really have any real good ones. We had some good sniffs, where it was kind of half chances and some good stuff around the goal, but none where it was like, ‘How did we miss that?’”
Baca said the Quakes’ possession success was due to some improvement in terms of their off-the-ball movement, especially after the initial 30 minutes, when the Galaxy seemed to take their foot off the gas up 1-0.
“I think in the second half, everyone was moving and there was always a pass open,” Baca said.
Yallop will not be able to use the same outside quartet this weekend in Toronto because of the red card picked up by Beitashour. But the coach made it clear that San Jose — who earlier this year cut loose their fastest wing player, Omar Jasseh, due to the teen’s lack of progress — will be looking not only to keep up their level of speed, but also to augment it in upcoming years.
“If you can’t unlock a defense with your play, you’ve got to unlock it with something that’s undefendable at times, and that’s pure speed,” Yallop said. “Something we’ve lacked a little bit from wide positions, a pure burner who just can get behind people and even the forwards, that’s [what we’re looking for] for next season, for sure.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes