In 2012, when the San Jose Earthquakes deployed Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski on the field at the same time, they scored 14 goals in 307 minutes, with injury time included, for an average of 4.12 per 90 minutes.
From the early looks of things, though, 2013 is going to be no such cakewalk.
Sunday night's 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers showed just how hard it will be for coach Frank Yallop’s side to recreate that attacking magic. Despite getting a chance to start their power trio – which combined for an even 50 goals last year – for the first time this season, the Quakes’ offense generated a paucity of chances as they stumbled to their third loss of the season.
San Jose were limited to three shots on goal. Lenhart, making his first start off November knee surgery, had no such attempts before giving way in the 63rd minute to winger Cordell Cato. Gordon was similarly shut out before seeing a second yellow and being sent off in the 69th. Wondolowski finally got on the stat sheet with a 93rd-minute header which was easily handled by Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
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All in all, it led to an unsatisfying night for the Quakes, who fell to 2-3-2 and dropped into a tie for sixth place in the Western Conference. Although Yallop pointed to Gordon’s ejection as “the turning point,” even before then, the Quakes did little to build on the edgy, attacking performance in a 1-1 tie against Vancouver last weekend.
“Absolutely,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com when asked if he was disappointed in the lack of scoring opportunities. “I feel that we picked a pretty bad night to not play our best soccer. We really didn’t connect a whole lot of passes, and therefore weren’t able to get a lot of crosses or generate things around the box. Whenever you don’t do that, you’re sitting deeper and deeper, and Portland had a great free kick to beat us.”
Since Shea Salinas was unavailable on the Timbers’ turf due to a bone bruise in his left knee, Yallop moved Wondolowski to the right wing. With 36-year-old captain Ramiro Corrales flanking the opposite side, the Quakes’ game plan was to bring forward Justin Morrow and Dan Gargan from the back line to compensate and provide service.
That scenario was upended, however, by the Quakes’ inability to win the ball – Portland owned a 64.3-35.7 percent advantage in possession – or to hold onto it once they had it: San Jose connected on just 64 percent of their passes, their second-worst mark this year.
OPTA Chalkboard: Quakes struggle to generate any kind of offense in loss to Portland
“We wanted to get Justin and Dan forward, but to do that, you have to be able to connect some passes and have a buildup,” Wondolowski said. “We didn’t do that. We couldn’t get them involved and therefore, we couldn’t get crosses in.”
San Jose were credited by Opta with 14 attempted crosses, 12 from open play. Only one was deemed successful, and that was a 56th-minute corner from Sam Cronin that was headed directly back to him by a teammate.
“We were just off our passing tonight on a slick pitch,” Yallop told reporters.
One of few positives that the Quakes could take out of the match was the fact that they get a chance to face the Timbers again in a week’s time at Buck Shaw Stadium.
“Me personally, I want to be able to prove that we can play better,” Wondolowski said. “We didn’t show tonight, but it’s nice that we get redemption in seven days. That’s our plan.”