SAN JOSE, Calif. – A year ago, the San Jose Earthquakes’ flank attack was a critical component to an offense that scored a franchise-record 72 goals.
So far in 2013, the Quakes’ crossing has seemed more like a cross to bear.
With last year’s regular wingers – Simon Dawkins on the left and Marvin Chávez on the right – out of the picture so far due to departure and injury, respectively, the Quakes’ productivity from the flanks has been noticeably downgraded.
According to Opta’s count, San Jose tied LA Galaxy for the league high in 2012 in terms of “Big Chances” generated from crosses. Both clubs had 68, or an even two per match. This year, the Earthquakes have created 10 such opportunities, an average of 1.43 – which represents a decrease of nearly 30 percent.
Highlights: POR 1, SJ 0
The situation reached a nadir Sunday against Portland, when San Jose – playing captain Ramiro Corrales on the left and forward Chris Wondolowski wide right – completed just one lonely cross out of 14 in a 1-0 loss to the Timbers.
That’s why Chávez’s pronouncement Wednesday that he is ready to return from a three-month absence due to a strained ligament in his right knee is such welcome news for the Quakes as they get set to host Portland on Sunday (11 pm ET, UniMas).
“I’m feeling good,” Chávez told reporters via translation by a team employee. “I’m happy, I’m glad to be back. I’m able to play this weekend. Hopefully I can get into the game and make an impact. I’ve missed being out there. It’s been a long time off the field.”
If Chávez can pair with Shea Salinas, who sat out last week because of his own bone bruise in his left knee, it would give San Jose their first-choice flank pair for the first time all year.
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“We’re sort of built around [Chávez] exploiting space wide, him and Shea,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said this week. “We miss Shea, too, if you look at it. So both those guys should be available for the weekend, which is good.”
Chávez sustained his injury in mid-January while practicing with the Honduran national team for their World Cup qualifiers. The initial hope was that he’d miss six weeks, but that timeframe more than doubled in the end.
“When I first had this injury, I thought that it was probably going to take a month for something like that [to get better],” Chávez said. “But it is a very delicate injury. We took a lot of care with it to make sure I was going to be 100 percent healthy.”
A return by Chávez and Salinas would get the Quakes’ offense closer to 100 percent productive – even more so if right back Steven Beitashour, who played 45 minutes in San Jose’s reserve match Monday, can give it a go.
But it’s not just a matter of delivering better passes, it’s also up to the front line to clean them up more ruthlessly: Last year, the Quakes cashed in 45.6 percent of their “Big Chances” generated off crosses, a number that has dropped to 20.0 percent this season.
“Last year, we thrived off getting balls in the box and Wondo, [Steven Lenhart] and [Alan] Gordon getting on the end of them,” Salinas said. “This year, I feel like Ramiro’s done well [in terms of] services. [Sam] Cronin’s gotten balls in. Before last game, I was putting a lot of crosses in.
"We just haven’t seemed to connect our crosses exactly as accurately as we were last year. And then when we have, we haven’t been as accurate on the finishes. Hopefully, that all comes together here and we can start putting some goals in the back of the net again.”
Geoff Lepper covers the San Jose Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com.