MLSsoccer.com continues to take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 19-6-9 (66 points); 72 GF / 43 GA (+29 GD)
2012 San Jose Earthquakes Average Position
Where are Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon? They both may have hit double figures for the 'Quakes but neither actually logged much significant on-field time in relation to their busier teammates. Gordon (13 goals, seven assists) did his damage in 1,297 minutes, while Lenhart (10 goals, two assists) managed his double-digit output in just 1,623. To put that in perspective, Chris Wondolowski played 2,813 minutes of a possible 3,060 during 2012.
Apart from the absences of perhaps the two most iconic Goonies on the squad, the rest shakes out fairly predictably. Rafael Baca (30) and Sam Cronin (4) run the midfield, Simon Dawkins (10) and Marvin Chavez (81) supported the players up front and Wondo's right in the middle of it all. With so much attacking power concentrated in one area, you can see why it was so difficult to defend San Jose all season long: opposing defenses couldn't key on just one player.
2012 San Jose Earthquakes Passing Matrix (Download HERE)
Cronin and Baca didn't get the plaudits, but they were San Jose's engine room, keeping things humming from March until early November. The Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle has been saying it for awhile now: These guys simply don't get their due. If I had to guess, though, neither minds too much.
Playing in the shadow of Wondolowski, Lenhart and Gordon is a thankless job, publicly at least, but Cronin and Baca played their roles perfectly this season. They were No. 1 and 2 in completed passes with 1,343 and 1,284, respectively, and provided two of the three primary links to Wondolowski, along with Dawkins. And by combining with outside backs Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow, Cronin and Baca helped the 'Quakes leave behind at least a little bit of the reputation for directness that skeptics bandy about when other slights dried up.
As far as Wondolowski goes, he didn't have to worry himself with build up most of the time. He was, after all, the razor-sharp point on the end of the spear, but still finished with 726 completed passes, certainly a respectable number for the man known as MLS' most prolific poacher.
1) As Mötley Crüe might say...Goals, Goals, Goals
We'll start with the obvious. It all revolved around Wondolowski, the league's best forward over the course of 2012 and deserved MVP. He led the side in shots (104) by 46 attempts, big chances (33), tied for second in assists (seven) and chances created (38), and, obviously, led the league in goals with 27.
With opposing defensing keying on Wondo – and failing to slow him down more often than not – his supporting cast found opportunities plentiful (a league-leading 67 big chances) and filled their bellies all season long. Wondolowski, Lenhart and Gordon all hit double-digits, Dawkins was two goals away from that threshold and eight others scored at least once. Even without Wondo's historic tally, San Jose outscored 11 teams in MLS, most notably Sporting KC. That should come as no surprise considering Frank Yallop's side led the league in shots on target and were a hundredth of a percentage point from tying the Red Bulls for the best goal-to-shot ratio in MLS.
So say what you will about San Jose's style of play – being the best is a thankless occupation, huh? – but this was MLS' best attacking side by a long shot. It may not have been "pretty" soccer all the time, but the Goonies don't care much about appearances.
2) San Jose's defense stayed relatively consistent from 2011 to 2012
45 goals to 43, 490 tackles to 500, 879 total clearances to 965. Things didn't change all that much for the 'Quakes from a defensive perspective during the past two seasons. They were better in 2011 from the standpoint of goals allowed, sure, but only two playoff teams allowed more goals than Yallop's squad.
In truth, they didn't have to be much improved from 2011 to take advantage of the flood of goals produced by thier attacking players, but a few areas of progress cropped up over 34 games.
Victor Bernardez added an element of aerial dominance, as headed clearances rose by nearly 70 while others stay consistent across the board, and was probably unlucky not to win Newcomer of the Year. Goalkeeper John Busch was also forced into 32 fewer saves, but that's not as encouraging as it might sound. Part of that is because more save opportunities resulted in goals.
After posting a shots-to-save ratio of 72.2 percent in 2011, that number dropped to 66.4 in 2012. More of those shots came inside the 18-yard box as well, 66.7 percent in 2012 vs. 58.2 in 2011. Defensively, the stats indicate the 'Quakes were nothing special, but you'll have a hard time finding anyone in San Jose who puts much stock in that after a historic campaign.
3) Marvin Chavez to San Jose may have been the league's biggest internal move last offseason
Kenny Cooper gets all the attention, as goalscorers are want to do, but Chavez helped turn a mediocre side into the league's best.
All of a sudden, the 'Quakes had a touchline-hugging jitter bug to complement the aerial abilities of Wondolowski, Lenhart and Gordon while taking some of the pressure off Dawkins, who prefers to cut inside. He led the club in chances created (56) by 18 despite completing only 482 passes on the season, creating a shot for a teammate more than 10 percent of the time.
And outside his attacking contributions (three goals, a team-high 13 assists), the diminutive Honduran put in solid shifts on the defensive side as well. His 53 tackles were fourth on the team and just eight behind second-place Beitashour. FC Dallas must have been loath to lose him, but San Jose can point to Chavez as one of the reason's 2012 turned into a dream year.
Random nugget: San Jose recorded 496 successful layoffs in 2012 compared to 289 in 2011.