It might be coming too late to save the team’s playoff push, but the San Jose Earthquakes’ 1-1 come-from-behind road tie Wednesday against the Portland Timbers provides a blueprint for how the Quakes can make their long hoped-for possession game thrive.
WATCH: Full Match Highlights
San Jose were credited with 64.7 percent of possession on the evening, with a whopping 73.4 percent in the first half. And while that number was partially inflated by Portland’s willingness to concede the initiative in the wake of Kenny Cooper’s ninth-minute goal, the fact was that San Jose had plenty of on-the-floor buildups leading to scoring chances — most notably Khari Stephenson’s equalizer in the 70th minute.
“We’ve shown signs of this type of game being a 90-minute game for us,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said of his team’s possession. “I thought our players looked very sharp offensively and defensively. I thought we were great from whistle to whistle.”
The 21-second sequence which led to the Quakes’ tying goal began with defender Nana Attakora stepping in front of a pass by Portland’s Kalif Alhassan just outside San Jose’s penalty box. Attakora’s first touch went to Ramiro Corrales, who looked upfield and found Stephenson just inside the midfield stripe.
Stephenson sloughed the ball off to overlapping left back Justin Morrow, who carried it down the wing to within 25 yards of Portland’s end line. Morrow fed the ball square to Simon Dawkins, who delivered another sideways pass to Rafael Baca (above).
Baca reversed the flow, sending the ball back across the top of Portland’s box just as Stephenson stepped away from his marker to receive it. Stephenson took one touch to settle the ball and turned and fired in the same motion, placing his 20-yard drive so well that it didn’t matter he didn’t catch all of it. Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins still was left to fruitlessly dive at the ball as it tumbled just inside the near post.
“We’ve shown for most of the last 10 games that we can possess the ball,” Stephenson said. “It’s about being dangerous in the final third. ... We’re getting better. Tonight we had a lot of shots on goal, and the possession speaks for itself.”
The Quakes began the year looking to put together their buildups in just this kind of fashion, but the scheme never took off, and San Jose dropped back into their previous, more direct style.
With target forwards Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon both out with long-term family and injury situations, respectively, the Quakes gravitated back toward a ground-based attack during their trip to face the LA Galaxy on Aug. 20. Since then, San Jose are 1-2-2, which doesn’t sound all that great until you consider they were 0-5-6 before that, including a run where they were shutout in seven of nine matches.
“Sometimes it takes a while to build the momentum and the players start to really believe in the way we want to play,” Yallop said. “There’s been a lot of changes and a lot of stuff that’s gone on this year that’s out of our hands, obviously, but I think that was a true performance that we’re capable of and we will play like that in the future.”