SAN JOSE, Calif. – The cast of characters has changed dramatically, but the San Jose Earthquakes have brought back a winning recipe from 2010: stifling defense with a liberal dose of game-winning goals from Chris Wondolowski.
With three victories in their first four matches – all three secured by goals from Wondolowski – San Jose are enjoying their best opening run since 2003. It’s only their second hot start since being reborn as an expansion team five years ago; the Quakes of 2010 went 5-2-1 en route to the club’s only MLS Cup Playoffs berth in their current incarnation.
HIGHLIGHTS: San Jose hold onto lead in Seattle
San Jose coach Frank Yallop said that while the start has been reminiscent of that 2010 season, this year’s club is going about its business in more authoritative fashion.
“The team’s better than 2010, to be honest,” Yallop said. “We’re more assured of ourselves in the way we want to play and the way we go about it. The performances have been better than 2010, for sure.”
Wondolowski agreed with that sentiment, pointing out that while the 2010 Quakes posted a franchise-record 13 shutouts and won four times by a 1-0 scoreline, there was an element of living dangerously at play.
“If you look at the games, none of [this year’s opponents] had really great chances,” Wondolowski said. “In a couple of the games we did win in 2010, it was like, ‘Whoa, they probably should have scored on a couple of those.’ I think that shows how we’ve grown in that sense.”
The team’s growth can also be seen in how much turnover led up to this new streak. Among the 13 players who have started games for the Quakes this season, only three – Wondolowski and defenders Ramiro Corrales and Steven Beitashour – played any significant time in San Jose’s 2010 start.
The rest were either on the Quakes bench in early 2010 (goalkeeper Jon Busch, defender Justin Morrow) or have been acquired since then (defender Víctor Bernárdez, forward Steven Lenhart and midfielders Rafael Baca, Marvin Chávez, Sam Cronin, Tressor Moreno, Shea Salinas and Khari Stephenson).
“I just think we’ve got more talent now than we had then,” Yallop said. “But it’s about wining, and that team in 2010 did a nice job of not conceding goals and seeing games out. I feel that this team can do the same. And we have more weapons to score goals, too.”
Lenhart "may be a game-day decision" for Saturday
The Quakes may have to seek their first three-game winning streak since 2005 without the services of Steven Lenhart.
The big target man left practice early Thursday and received treatment for tightness in his right hamstring. Yallop said the 25-year-old forward – who drew the penalty that made the difference in the Quakes’ 1-0 win at Seattle last weekend – will be a game-time decision when the Quakes host Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“It was just precautionary, really,” Yallop said of shutting down Lenhart. “It’s just been tight the last couple of days. He didn’t feel it go, so hopefully he’s OK. We’ll see [Friday]. It may be a game-time decision on him.”
If Lenhart is unavailable to face the Whitecaps, Yallop has several other options he can use alongside Chris Wondolowski, who sits tied for second in the league with four goals:
- Alan Gordon, another classic target man, made his 2012 debut last week in Seattle as a reserve.
- Simon Dawkins, who has yet to find a place in the Quakes’ crowded midfield, is thought by Yallop to be a natural second forward, although that would require moving Wondolowski up the field.
- Moreno, brought in as the Quakes’ first true No. 10, is in a similar position as Dawkins, having failed to unseat second-year man Baca from the center of San Jose’s midfield.
- Stephenson had extensive use as a striker last year, although he’s made it known it’s not his favorite position.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.