SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Whenever the San Jose Earthquakes tried to play the ball sideways in the first half Saturday against the Chicago Fire, things seemed to go, well, sideways.
So after watching the Fire nearly score off of a pair of first-half giveaways, coach Frank Yallop made sure his team got the message: You’ve got to stop handing Chicago scoring chances.
The Quakes listened and put Yallop’s directives into action, cutting the turnovers to a minimum and playing a much cleaner game in the midfield and on defense. That helped San Jose post a 2-0 victory that ended their franchise-record winless streak at 13 matches.
“What I said to them at halftime was, ‘Every chance they have, we give the ball away in a bad area,’” Yallop said. “Giveaways in our own end, not tracking guys — it’s not unacceptable, but you can’t keep doing that all night, because eventually they will score a goal.
"So I just said, 'Let’s play a little more south to north, straight up the field, and try to find people’s feet forward, rather than sideways [passes] that get cut out. We worked on that, we talked about it and I think the guys in the second half executed.”
Chris Wondolowski staked San Jose to a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute, but Chicago nearly equalized seven minutes later after Khari Stephenson tried to find Joey Gjertsen with a square pass just inside the Fire’s half of the field.
Dan Gargan jumped on the too-soft pass and left the ball for Patrick Nyarko, who threaded the ball past right back Steven Beitashour. Gargan ran onto the through pass, went one-on-one against Quakes 'keeper Jon Busch and banged the shot into the near post.
Stephenson was caught out again in first-half stoppage time, this time searching for Beitashour inside the Quakes’ defensive third. Nyarko quickly tracked back to intercept the ball and fed a through pass to wide open Dominic Oduro. Only the quick feet of a charging Busch, who made the save at 12 yards, kept Chicago from equalizing.
“In the first half, we lost the ball a lot in the middle,” Quakes captain Ramiro Corrales said. “We were giving [away] the ball a lot and they were breaking on us. In the second half, we kept [the ball] much better and that was the difference.”
Without turnovers to ignite the speedy likes of Oduro and Nyarko, Chicago’s offense was smothered by the Quakes in the second half. The Fire had only five shots after intermission, compared to 11 before that.
“We were turning the ball over in bad spots,” Quakes center back Bobby Burling said. “The second half, it was Wondo and Khari, starting from up top and holding the ball for us better. I thought Khari and Wondo really combined together well tonight.”
San Jose, who came into the game ranked 16th in the league in terms of winning percentage when scoring first (.611), eschewed the idea of bunkering down after intermission, choosing instead to go on the attack.
“I think it was key, because you can’t just drop and wait to see what they’re going to do,” Corrales said. “Frank told us, ‘You’ve got to go pressure them from the beginning of the second half.’”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes