SAN JOSE, Calif. – In 2010, when the expansion-era San Jose Earthquakes made it back to the playoffs for the first time since their 2008 rebirth, the club recorded a franchise-record 13 shutouts.
This year, the Quakes have found clean sheets harder to come by, with seven total and only four since March 31. Two of those came in September against woefully outgunned Chivas USA.
Upping that shutout total likely won’t get any easier for San Jose on Saturday, when the Quakes travel to Colorado short-handed at center back (9 pm ET, streamed LIVE online).
Víctor Bernárdez will serve a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation and Ike Opara is still working his way back from a hard knock to the head against Portland on Sept. 19. Opara passed his baseline concussion testing Tuesday and could, barring any setbacks, be medically cleared to see action against the Rapids – but he won’t have trained for nearly three weeks, making his inclusion a long shot.
If Opara is held out, the expected move will be to pair Jason Hernandez with Justin Morrow, bringing Ramiro Corrales in at left back.
Quakes coach Frank Yallop said he’s analyzed the tapes and while there’s room for improvement at nipping attacks in the bud, he hasn’t seen a glaring number of obvious errors on the part of his backline.
“We can’t stop teams from scoring, but we can do better at preventing them chances,” Yallop said. “Having said that, they’ve kind of took their chances when they’ve come. It wasn’t like we were getting murdered, and they score two or three goals when they should have scored 10. Their ratio [of success] is pretty high.”
Part of the situation is by design; with San Jose so often pushing forward in search of another goal to increase their league-leading and franchise-record total of 65, it leaves the Quakes vulnerable at times to opponents with counterattacking skills.
“We’ve taking pride this year of offensively being dynamic, and I think, at times, we’ve shown the discipline needed to walk away with clean sheets,” Hernandez said. “For one reason or another sometimes, with our free style of play, we let in goals that we shouldn’t. ... In the playoffs, it’s going to be important to be very solid defensively.”
True enough. On average, MLS playoff matches have yielded 0.32 fewer goals than those in the regular season – a drop of more than 10 percent. Given that 1-0 matches are that much more prevalent in the postseason, do San Jose need to moderate their free-flowing ways?
Yallop doesn’t think so, pointing out that the 2003 title-winning Quakes squad actually scored twice as many goals per game in the playoffs that year (3.00) than during the regular season (1.50).
“I think if you’re going to play a certain way, you’ve got to stick to it,” Yallop said. “You can’t start trying to ... do the things that you think are going to happen in a game. We’ve got to play our game. And our game is going forward. It really is. Nothing changes for us. We want to be a team that entertains and tries to go forward.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.