SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Earthquakes always knew that matching their record-settting output of 72 goals in 34 regular-season games from last year would be a nearly impossible task in 2013.
Still, it wasn’t clear just how far short the Quakes were destined to come.
Through 24 matches, San Jose have put just 25 goals on the board – or two less than reigning MVP Chris Wondolowski knocked home on his own last year. If that average of 1.04 goals-per-game does not increase over the Quakes’ final 10 regular-season matches, it will go down as the club’s lowest-ever mark.
It would also represent the third-biggest year-to-year drop, on a percentage basis, for any team in MLS history. (Only D.C. United’s 63.7 percent decrease this year and 51.2 percent fall in 2010 would beat San Jose’s current plunge of 50.8 percent.)
“Last year, we were just on fire,” said Quakes winger Shea Salinas, who leads the club with six assists this year. “It was going to be tough to match that.”
Said San Jose defender Steven Beitashour: “Anytime you have a year like last year, you can always say, ‘How come it wasn’t like that?’ But we’re still creating chances. Last year, everything kind of went in. This year, it’s a little tougher to get.”
There is no easy solution for the Quakes – who were shutout last week in MLS play at Vancouver and a CONCACAF Champions League match at Montreal – to implement as they try to mount a last-ditch playoff challenge.
“We have similar personnel [to last year],” Quakes interim coach Mark Watson said. “I don’t know the reason for it. Every year is a little bit different. I know we’ve had mixed lineups, so that maybe has a part to play in it. But we have good players and all we can do is work on stuff in training; hopefully that translates to the games.”
The injuries and suspensions to target men Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart – who each posted career highs in scoring last season with 13 and 10 goals, respectively – have had a large impact. So, too, has the departure of eight-goal scorer Simon Dawkins, and the drop in effectiveness from winger Marvin Chavez (0.11 assists per 90 minutes this year, compared to 0.61 in 2012).
Because of Gordon and Lenhart’s lack of availability – each has played less than half of the Quakes’ regular-season minutes – the club hasn’t been able to use them together with Wondolowski at the same time. That triumvirate was especially dangerous down the stretch last year, as the Quakes cemented their hold on the Supporters’ Shield.
From Watson’s perspective, even though ties don’t really help his club’s cause – the Quakes likely need a minimum of 20 points from their remaining 10 games to have a hope of earning a playoff berth – San Jose’s attack needs tweaking rather than straight-up overhauling. And he won’t be ordering waves of extra players forward Saturday against Sporting Kansas City.
“To feel obliged to push the game from the first minute is not necessary,” Watson said. “If we go down a goal, then absolutely, we would change our tactics and be a little more aggressive to try to score the goal. But we approach every game with a plan, and unless something changes, we’ll play a certain way.”
Salinas tried to take the blame for the Quakes’ inability to turn 19 shots – seven on goal – into anything on the scoreboard in a 2-0 loss to the Whitecaps last Saturday. And he agrees with Watson’s belief that a drastic tactical alteration isn’t needed.
“I don’t know what you’d change,” Salinas said. “Try to get Wondo, Alan and Lenny the ball as much as possible. Those are the guys that score a lot of goals, and they’re good at it. They’re good at it in practices; they’re good at it in games when we give them good service. I think we just need to find their heads, find their feet a little more often.”