By giving five players their first starts of 2011 against Philadelphia on Saturday, San Jose Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop made it clear that there were no sacred cows on the roster in his quest to find better form.
But after generating just one shot on goal despite having 49 minutes of a man advantage and watching the Union salt away a 1-0 victory on a controversial 76th-minute penalty kick by Sebastien Le Toux, the overriding question for the Quakes is this:
Where do we go now?
“It’s just disappointing we are finding ways to seem to be able to lose games rather than going out and being able to win the game,” Yallop said. “Our confidence is not high, but we will just keep working.”
San Jose, last in the Western Conference and riding a three-match losing streak, used a revamped lineup that saw the insertion of forward Steven Lenhart, midfielders Anthony Ampaipitakwong and Brad Ring and defenders Bobby Burling and Justin Morrow for the first time this year and the repositioning of Brandon McDonald as a central midfielder rather than a center back.
The moves strengthened the Quakes’ defense in the first half, when goalkeeper Jon Busch was rarely tested despite Philadelphia trotting out its most offensive-minded XI of the season.
And some of the new players, such as Morrow, made their mark in bidding to remain in the lineup when the Quakes get back to MLS play on May 11 in Vancouver.
Morrow, who was loaned to lower-division Tampa Bay last season as a rookie, flashed his impressive speed to help bottle up Le Toux on several occasions. And he came up with a sliding move in the 36th minute to barely break up a menacing pass from Danny Mwanga that threatened to put Le Toux in alone on Busch — a play that ranked as arguably the Quakes’ most important tackle of the day.
“It was definitely a big change, but all of us on the team work hard,” Morrow said of the lineup shift. “We just want our chance. We just want to come in here and make this team better, trying to get some results. Obviously, that didn’t happen today.”
WATCH: Full match highlights
Yet the Quakes never took advantage of Jordan Harvey’s straight red card in the 41st minute, even as more and more substitutes came on to bolster the attack.
“At times, it did feel like we weren’t a man up,” Burling admitted to MLSsoccer.com. “They were at home, and they were pushing guys forward, knowing they needed a result. For whatever reason, we just couldn’t find much of the ball.”
It may have been that the Quakes offense was thrown off by a switch to more of a 4-4-2 with a flat midfield line, where McDonald and Ring played discrete zones instead of the interchanging roles in San Jose’s preferred (to this point) 4-3-3. Or that a simple lack of firepower in midfield caught up with San Jose.
“We were expecting to play 11-on-11 all game, so we were a man up and maybe we don’t have our best footballers on the field,” Yallop said. “They are strong and can break plays up, but [are] not the cleanest on the ball. [That’s] not to say that they are bad players, it is just a different game for them.”
That being said, Yallop’s offense-minded changes — Bobby Convey on for Scott Sealy in the 55th minute, Sam Cronin for McDonald in the 63rd and Ryan Johnson for Ampaipitakwong in the 72nd — failed to tip the balance. The Quakes didn’t officially test Philadelphia keeper Faryd Mondragon until only 9 minutes remained in regulation time, when Lenhart got a head to a Convey corner kick.
Mondragon easily plucked the attempt out of mid-air.
The Quakes next travel to Portland for a U.S. Open Cup qualifier that they wish would also serve as a regular-season springboard for a team in dire need of some positive news.
“Hopefully we can get a good result on Tuesday to wash our minds clear of this one,” Burling said. “The last three, actually.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes