SAN JOSE, Calif. — Perhaps it’s the exuberance of youth. Maybe it’s a bit of rookie excitability.
Whatever the case, San Jose midfielder Rafael Baca is still buying into the notion that the Earthquakes’ resurgence — despite a team-record 12-match winless streak — is just around the corner.
“It’s frustrating when you play well and you don’t get the result,” Baca (above) said this week. “Everybody wants to get a win. ... We’ve just got to be patient, and if we just keep on working the same way we are, then things are going to start coming our way.”
Of course, the Quakes have been saying things in that same vein for the better part of two months, searching unsuccessfully the whole time for their sixth win of the season.
Given that San Jose have only nine matches remaining and need — according to what coach Frank Yallop said several weeks ago — at least five more victories to make the playoffs, the time for being patient has long passed. It’s win-or-make-plans-for-2012 time as the Quakes visit Toronto FC on Saturday night (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
San Jose have been buffeted by absences throughout their slide, and Saturday will be no different, with right back Steven Beitashour unavailable after picking up a red card last weekend against LA. Veteran Chris Leitch is the presumed replacement there.
Through 25 games, the Quakes have started 11 defenders this season, putting forth 14 different combinations of four-man back lines. In 30 matches last year, those numbers were nine players, in 11 combinations. The most games for any single quartet this year? Four. Last year? Seven, with two other combinations getting five matches each.
All that instability has helped push the Quakes’ goals-allowed average to 1.36 per match. If that figure holds, it would be the club’s second-highest total since 2000.
But it’s not just along the back line where San Jose are constantly having to patch holes. Along with Beitashour, the Quakes continue to miss target forwards Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon. Also, new acquisition Edmundo Zura, whose conditioning was an issue during his 20-minute debut stint against the Galaxy, did not make the trip.
“If we had Steven and Alan fit, I would think we’ll be serving more balls into the box and getting on the end of stuff,” Yallop said. “It just limits your options to what you can do right now.”
Yallop has pushed usual midfielder Khari Stephenson up front of late, although he does have MLS newcomers Ellis McLoughlin and Matt Luzunaris on hand if he chooses to go another route.
The Quakes coach praised Stephenson’s work last week, even though some of his ingrained midfielder tendencies, such as dipping back to pick up the ball outside of the attacking third, make him less “goal dangerous,” as the coach put it, than he might be.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes