SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose Earthquakes began the season with three shutouts in four matches. Since then, they’ve given up 10 goals in six games – five in the last two – without a single clean sheet.
Is this simply a bump in the road for the Quakes, who have suffered a number of injuries lately along the backline? Or maybe something deeper?
San Jose are hoping to show it’s the former, beginning Sunday when they host Chivas USA (7 pm ET; Galavision).
Jason Hernandez, who was replaced at halftime of the Quakes’ 2-1 loss to Vancouver on Saturday due to tightness in his right calf, said he will be healthy enough to play on the weekend. That’s a boon to a San Jose backline that’s still missing center back Víctor Bernárdez and has been forced to use less-than-fully-fit Ramiro Corrales and Ike Opara in recent weeks.
The Quakes used the same starting four in back – Corrales wide left, Justin Morrow and Bernárdez inside, with Steven Beitashour wide right – through their first six matches. But Bernárdez (sprained left knee ligament) and Corrales (strained right calf) both went down in that sixth game, a 2-2 tie at New York on April 14, shaking things up for coach Frank Yallop.
“I think it’s just the disjointedness of the [situation],” Yallop said of the defense’s recent struggles. “When you have a steady, settled team, which we did at the start of the season, it was comfortable and everyone knew each other really well. No matter who’s playing, just having a run [of matches] together helps. It really does. ... I’d like to have a nice settled team. We’d still be, I think, [defending] like we were in the start of the year.”
Hernandez pointed out that some of the recent strikes against San Jose were fairly close to unstoppable; Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman won Goal of the Week for his slaloming score against the Quakes on April 21, and D.C. United’s Dwayne De Rosario is currently up for the same award after thumping one home from 28 yards past goalkeeper Jon Busch (above) last Wednesday.
“Even though we were winning a lot of games, and teams were still only getting a handful of looks, they were finishing,” Hernandez said. “That’s maybe us not being as sharp as we could, but that’s sometimes more of a credit to the other team and their attack. We’re not leaking soft goals left and right.”
To some extent, the increased number of goals allowed is a worthwhile byproduct of getting more players forward into the Quakes’ attack. San Jose lead the league with 21 goals, and as multiple Quakes pointed out, the sting of allowing goals is reduced when you can still win by a 5-3 scoreline, as San Jose did against D.C.
“If we’re exposing ourselves defensively to be dynamic, and sending numbers forward to create these goals, you’re going to leave gaps and you’re going to leave opportunities for the other team to come back down in your defensive end,” Hernandez said. “It’s a give and take, and I think the greatest thing we’ve had so far this year is balance. Hopefully, we can maintain that.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.