SAN JOSE, Calif. – At 5-2-1, San Jose are off to their best start since the franchise’s high-water mark, a three-year run from 2001-03 which included two MLS championships.
But to the current Quakes who stuck around or returned after San Jose’s original MLS franchise decamped to Houston in 2006, there is no comparison.
“We’re seven games in, eight games in,” Quakes general manager John Doyle told MLSsoccer.com. “We have to continue playing well, and if three-quarters of the way through the season, we’re still playing like we are – which I think will be – then I’ll [talk about it].”
If the Quakes keep playing like this, the conversation won’t wait for Doyle.
San Jose’s best-ever regular season might have been 2005, when they lost only four times all season -- and just once in the final 22 matches -- en route to compiling 64 points and winning the Supporters’ Shield.
But the team sports two stars above its logo because of the work done in 2001-03, when the team had a cumulative record of 41-25-18 and dusted off Los Angeles (’01) and Chicago (’03) in the MLS Cup matches.
“It’s really early to make any comparisons,” said goalkeeper Joe Cannon, who started on the 2001 and ’02 San Jose teams before leaving for France. “That team had guys like a Landon [Donovan], [Jeff Agoos] and guys that got Defender of the Year, guys that you would call stars. This team has guys that are emerging. We’re seeing a maturing of this group.”
In some cases, such as the left-side tandem of Bobby Convey and Ramiro Corrales, it’s been a re-emergence. But certainly players such as Chris Wondolowski (tied with Kei Kamara as the league’s third-leading scorer with five goals) and Brandon McDonald (a key component of San Jose’s defensive wall) have established themselves for the first time as full-time MLS starters.
“It’s a totally different team and dynamic,” said coach Frank Yallop, who was on the San Jose bench throughout 2001-03. “I think what you can do, you look at the way we played in ‘01 through ‘03, and it looks more like the team now that I had back then: hard-working, wide guys are putting the shift in, making sure it’s difficult to play against us, two forwards who are really working hard to defend. And when we go forward, we go forward with pace and power. It looks similar.”
One statistical similarity is a stingy defense. The 2001-03 Quakes had a cumulative GAA of 1.18. This year’s model is sitting at a mark of 1.00 after four consecutive shutouts.
“The thing that we’re happy with is that we’re getting shutouts,” said Doyle, who served as the team’s TV color analyst in 2001-03. “That, to me, is big. We have good chemistry and the guys are good. The practices are spirited but not pissy. Guys are fighting hard and trying hard.”
As Doyle knows, winning breeds more winning. For whatever reason, the match has been lit to the fuse of the 2010 Quakes in a fashion the franchise has often seen in the past.
“When you lose, everyone goes, ‘You’ve just got to get more confidence.’ Well, you’ve got to win to get the confidence, right?” Doyle said. “And then you win some games and it’s great to see some of the players, like Jason Hernandez and Joe, some of the guys who’ve been here the three years, seeing them get to enjoy and get that confidence. And that only comes from winning some games.”
That also brings the story back to Doyle’s early point, which was that a nice eight-game stretch does not make up a full season. The 2005 Quakes opened 3-3-4, rebounded to go 15-1-6 the rest of the way, but then crashed and burned in the first round of the playoffs, losing 4-2 on aggregate to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Past, therefore, is not necessarily prelude, both in the context of this single season and in a franchise’s continuum as a whole.
“I said it last game, it’s more like I want to play,” Yallop said. “So we finally got there, but we don’t want to take our foot off the gas. I think anything can happen in this league. You can lose your confidence. I told the guys, the reason we’ve had some good results are from our hard work, work rate, and not giving up. I think if you have all that in your mind before the game, you’ll win games.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes