Through four matches and 390 minutes in all competitions this season, the San Jose Earthquakes have netted just five goals, and four of those have come from set pieces.
So it's safe to say that San Jose have left themselves plenty of room for improvement when it comes to scoring from the run of play.
The Quakes hope to see some of that improvement arrive on Saturday when they host the New England Revolution (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). Despite earning plenty of plaudits for their shorthanded-but-spirited CONCACAF Champions League performance against Mexican club Toluca, San Jose are winless in four matches this year, including an 0-1-1 start in MLS.
“A lot of these have been difficult games against good teams, where it’s been important to solidify our team defensively,” Quakes midfielder Sam Cronin told MLSsoccer.com. “So they haven’t been the prettiest games, from our standpoint. But we’re looking forward to having these next two games at home and – while maintaining a good defensive shape – going out there and really playing a little bit more [of an] attacking style and creating good chances.”
Any side can always point to near-misses in the final third, but Cronin admitted that, “I don’t think that we’ve created enough chances to be successful, for a variety of different reasons.”
Even San Jose’s lone goal from the run of play this year has its roots in the Quakes’ set-piece successes: the sequence leading to Victor Bernardez’s 95th-minute equalizer against Real Salt Lake began with Shaun Francis corralling the clearance of a San Jose corner kick and launching a 40-yard pass into RSL’s penalty area.
San Jose winger Shea Salinas said the club focused on defending during the preseason, no surprise given how critical a component defending was in San Jose’s second-half surge last season, which in turn helped then-interim coach Mark Watson win the job on a permanent basis. Salinas feels the offense is set to start clicking now that the club is done with midweek Champions League games and can get some full weeks of training in.
“I think it’s just a matter of time,” Salinas told MLSsoccer.com. “We’ll work on things together in practice. A few more games in, and you’ll start seeing a little more production from the offensive side, as far as moving the ball from the defensive third to the offensive third.”
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In the meantime, the Quakes will not stop looking to take advantage of their aerial superiority over most opponents.
“You look at some of the size and some of the athleticism from our players, it’s going to be one of the main ways that we score goals,” Watson told MLSsoccer.com. “We’re looking at scoring goals in other ways, but when the ball is wide, we want our wide guys attacking and getting the ball in the box. And any time there’s a set piece in and around the box, we know what we’re doing.”
With Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski up front and Bernardez and Clarence Goodson on the backline, there are plenty of targets for Salinas to feed, even if he says he never targets an individual player.
“I honestly just try to put it in a dangerous spot, and that’s a pretty big zone, with [the quality] of guys we have in the box,” said Salinas, who has four assists in all competitions. “There’s lots of room for error.
"There’s multiple times where I’ll hit a ball, and go, ‘Oh man, that was a horrible one,’ and Lenhart or Ty Harden or Wondo or Clarence Goodson will rise up and win the header, and we’ll have a chance at it. I look like I put in a good ball, when in reality it’s just that those guys are really great in the air at attacking the ball.”