MLSsoccer.com continues to take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 19-6-9 (66 points); 72 GF / 43 GA (+29 GD)
It’s hard to quibble with a season that generates 72 goals and 66 points – both league highs and franchise records – but if the San Jose Earthquakes could change one thing, they’d probably like to play out 2012 in reverse.
The Quakes started the year on a scalding-hot tear, opening 7-1-1 and making it clear immediately that the scouting report on San Jose from 2011 – hard workers who couldn’t finish – should be tossed in the nearest trash can.
Coach Frank Yallop guided his club to the top of the league table in late June, and they never fell out of first place, ending the schedule on a nine-match unbeaten streak. Along the way, Chris Wondolowski tied the MLS’ all-time single-season scoring mark on 27 goals, Alan Gordon (13 goals) and Steven Lenhart (10) both set personal bests, Marvin Chavez was reborn after coming over from FC Dallas and Victor Bernardez proved his worth in the middle of San Jose’s defense.
Yet San Jose could only manage three ties in their final four matches, and several key players picked up nagging injuries that would hamper them during the playoffs – a fact that helped the LA Galaxy win 3-2 on aggregate in the clubs’ Western Conference semifinal, unceremoniously knocking out the Supporters’ Shield winners.
Best Moment of the Year
The delirious scene inside San Jose’s locker room on Oct. 21 belied the Quakes’ 2-2 tie with the Galaxy. That’s because San Jose had already clinched their second Supporters’ Shield the previous day when Sporting Kansas City was unable to do better than a scoreless tie against New York Red Bulls. Bottles of sparkling wine were waiting for the Quakes in their locker room, and they reveled in dousing everyone involved with winning the team’s first trophy since being re-established as an expansion club in 2008, including president David Kaval, general manager John Doyle and Yallop.
Worst Moment of the Year
Newcomer Victor Bernardez was a giant influence on the Quakes’ backline in 2012, and that was never more apparent than in their final game. When Bernardez was forced out of action due to a sprained right knee 12 minutes into the second leg of the Quakes’ Western Conference semifinal against the Galaxy, it threw San Jose’s backline completely off kilter. The Galaxy feasted on the confusion, drilling three goals in the space of 18 minutes to put the match away and send the regular-season champions crashing out of the playoffs.
In terms of importance, nothing ranks higher than Chris Wondolowski’s penalty-kick conversion in the Quakes’ regular-season finale at Portland, a grounded shot pulled just inside the left post that tied the 29-year-old with Roy Lassiter as co-holders of the MLS all-time single-season scoring record on 27 goals. In terms of summing up Wondolowski’s epic campaign, probably the most representative example was his game-winning goal June 30 to cap San Jose’s stunning 4-3 comeback against the Galaxy in front of 50,321 at Stanford Stadium and a national television audience.
The goal was classic Wondolowski; he seized the briefest window of opportunity, breaking free from marker A.J. DeLaGarza and clearing enough space to redirect Ramiro Corrales’ flick of Marvin Chavez’s corner with a sublime side-footed back heel. Then, on the celebration, Wondolowski created another indelible moment, high-fiving and saluting members of the U.S. armed forces watching from field level.
After leading the league in saves during 2011, Jon Busch was not under siege nearly as often in 2012. But there were still times the former Goalkeeper of the Year needed to provide a critical stop for the Quakes, such as the leaping deflection on Juninho’s long-range attempt during San Jose’s 3-2 road comeback against the Galaxy on May 23. That move finishes second, however, to his diving stop on Dwayne De Rosario’s bicycle-kick try during a 5-3 win against D.C. United on May 2. Busch not only managed to keep the then-reigning MVP out of the net, but also pushed the ball wide enough that onrushing Chris Pontius couldn’t jam home what would have otherwise been a tap-in at the back post.
When you boast the league MVP in Wondolowski, the choice is obvious. Perhaps more interesting is the race for MVP among his teammates. A half-dozen Quakes could stake a legitimate claim: Bernardez was a reservoir of calm whenever he was on the pitch. Chavez tore through defenses from the flanks. Lenhart messed with the heads of defenders everywhere. Justin Morrow was a revelation at both left back and in the center of defense. Rafael Baca and Sam Cronin were the heartbeat at the center of the league’s best offense. All of that said, the award goes to Gordon, who had 13 goals and seven assists in just 1,297 minutes – including a streak of three May matches in which his goals in the 88th, 90th and 94th minutes grabbed four extra points for the Quakes. The veteran target man also helped cultivate the positive locker-room chemistry that was so critical to San Jose’s success.
Bernardez unquestionably had a great season, but Chavez (below right) provided something that no other Quake could – attacking verve and speed on the wings, an area where San Jose were sorely lacking in 2011. (Also in 2010, 2009 and 2008, for that matter.) Chavez, acquired before the season as FC Dallas looked to clear salary-cap space, was consistently dangerous for his new club, delivering a team-high 13 assists and three goals – a performance good enough to put himself back in contention for national-team duty with Honduras.
1. Continue building depth: The Quakes secured the rights to three MLS veterans during last week’s Re-Entry Draft, but they also let go of some players who were previously key contributors during that process. With San Jose entering the CONCACAF Champions League fray for the first time next summer, greater depth is even more paramount.
2. Keep searching for No. 10: San Jose hoped they might have found a true No. 10 last winter in the form of attack-minded Tressor Moreno, but the experiment ended in the summer when the Colombian couldn’t crack Yallop’s starting XI on a regular basis. San Jose obviously poured home goals without him, but having a guy who can unlock the defense with a single well-placed pass or a visionary move would put another option at Yallop’s disposal.
3. Put their hard-won experience to use: The Quakes didn’t have much in the way of postseason time prior to facing the Galaxy, who were coming off an MLS Cup championship run in 2011. Even having been knocked out, San Jose feels they’re better equipped for the pressure and rigors of playoff soccer for having gone through that series.