SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Shea Salinas showed last year that, when healthy, he can be a dangerous attacking force on the flanks and merit a starting spot in the league’s most prolific attack.
Whether he can provide more – which the Quakes desperately need at the moment – is another question. And there was evidence going both ways in San Jose’s season-opening 2-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on Sunday. Salinas often provided the Quakes’ only spark from the run of play, but he also lost possession a team-high 24 times via being tackled or failing to connect on his passes, according to Opta Chalkboard stats.
“I want the ball and I want to take guys on one-on-one, but [Sunday] I feel like I was 50-50 doing that,” Salinas said. “I think I lost the ball a little bit too much and I need to work on that. But I like when they give me the ball early and give me a chance to go at guys.”
With Marvin Chávez sidelined due to a sprained MCL, the Quakes started Salinas and about-to-turn-36-year-old Ramiro Corrales on the wings. Not surprisingly, then, coach Frank Yallop’s offensive game plan deliberately made Salinas’ one-on-one attacks a focal point, and he got free to deliver four successful crosses in the run of play, against five misses. By comparison, the rest of the Quakes were 0-for-15 in that category, which was a staple tactic for their team-record 72-goal attack in 2012.
“If you look at the first 60 minutes, we played really well,” Yallop said. “And I thought Shea was a part of that. It was kind of the plan to get him the ball as much as we can, feed him and let him do his thing, because he’s a good dribbler.”
Salinas also had four of the Quakes’ 10 key passes, an Opta stat measuring passes that lead directly to shot attempts.
Included are set pieces that twice put Chris Wondolowski in prime position to get a header on net. Salinas’ 58th-minute free kick, taken off a quick restart before RSL could get set defensively, found Wondolowski wide open in the center of the visitors’ penalty box, but he pushed his header wide of the near post. Yallop thought it was the biggest miss of the night.
“I was happy when I did create,” Salinas said. “Maybe [I was] playing a little bit too aggressive in the middle of the park, trying to go forward instead of sometimes playing safe. With that said, we did create a lot of chances.”
Until Chávez comes back, it’s a fair bet to expect Salinas will asked to keep creating in that same fashion.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.