SAN JOSE, Calif. — From the four-inch height differential to the 40-yard dash times at the opposite ends of the professional-soccer spectrum, there are plenty of measurable differences between San Jose Earthquakes teammates Sam Garza and Adam Jahn.
Then there’s the one unquantifiable thing that really separates them: Whereas Jahn, a rookie target forward, is brimming with assurance, Garza, a second-year winger, is suffering a crisis of confidence.
Nowhere was that more evident than on the Buck Shaw Stadium pitch Sunday night. While some rookies might have skied the shot, Jahn showed a cool head in delivering a 92nd-minute equalizer in the Quakes’ 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers.
With the ball teed up at 13 yards and Chris Wondolowski’s screen creating an open lane to the goal, Jahn deked veteran goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, opening his hip wide to get Ricketts moving to his left, then pulling the ball to the other post for the Stanford product’s second goal in just 277 minutes of play.
“[Jahn's] so calm and cool under pressure,” Wondolowski marveled after the game.
“Some handle it,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said Tuesday of how younger players adapt to the pressures of MLS play. “You look at Adam Jahn ... he sold it well, finished it great. Adam’s really calm. He actually likes those positions.”
Jahn’s goal might have been a game-winner, if San Jose had properly punished Portland for a terrible gaffe 18 minutes earlier, when Timbers left back Michael Harrington tried to skate a dangerous cross-field pass just a few yards outside of his own box.
Garza, hidden from Harrington’s view, nipped in immediately to intercept with space to run at Ricketts. But three hurried dribbles carried Garza right into Ricketts’ sliding form at the top of the six-yard box, short-circuiting San Jose’s best opportunity to that point.
“He reads the play fantastically well, nicks the ball, he’s in on goal and then doesn’t calm down and finish that,” Yallop said of Garza. “It’s not quite a breakaway, but it’s pretty close, where you’ve just got to get it out of your feet and get a strike or get something on goal. And he gets it caught under his feet. A confident player gets it out of his feet and strikes it.”
It was the second high-profile scoring opportunity squandered by Garza this season; he shot wide of frame in the 78th minute of San Jose’s 1-1 tie at the Columbus Crew last month, eschewing a square pass to the open Wondolowski, whose reaction was so heated, it caused the league MVP to offer a public apology on Twitter to Garza -- who put out his own message saying he should have passed the ball.
There is a bit of a Catch-22 to Garza’s situation; the man who had 21 goals in three collegiate seasons still hasn’t found one in MLS play (although he did notch a brace against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in US Open Cup action last year). The one thing most likely to lift all the pressure off Garza’s shoulders is, naturally, the very thing that by its absence is causing the pressure in the first place.
“He’s doing his best to do all the things we ask, but you can’t — I can’t put into him confidence,” Yallop said. “I think if he puts that in, he would have been [lifted up]. But he didn’t. We don’t doubt him. We just want to keep working with him. But at some point, he’s got to grab it. Because he’s a good player ... I just want him to get his confidence, if he can, and then go from there.”