One of the things San Jose Earthquakes interim coach Mark Watson has spent the most time preaching during his nearly four weeks in charge is a need for his club to be more difficult to break down.
Achieving that state has proven more difficult than simply identifying the problem.
Four days after a heroic defensive effort put the 10-man Quakes in a position to pull out a 3-2 comeback against the LA Galaxy, San Jose’s back line couldn’t repeat that late-game performance as Chicago struck for a game-winning goal in the 84th minute of the Fire’s own 3-2 win Wednesday night.
The Quakes looked like they would get at least a point – and perhaps even eke out a second straight victory for their first winning streak of 2013 – before Mike Magee sent a curling ball across the field to an onrushing Chris Rolfe, who finished smartly at the back post.
“For a game on the road against a good Chicago team, we created a lot of chances,” Watson told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “But we had a few lapses of concentration at the back, and that is something you cannot do on the road and expect to get a result.”
As has been the case too often this season, San Jose were left to rue their fate and wonder what went wrong.
“We’re obviously frustrated,” San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch told MLSsoccer.com. “We worked so hard tonight on both sides of the ball. . . . Rolfe’s a great goal poacher, he does that quite a bit. It’s just frustrating because at that point you think you should get out of there 2-2.”
The goal put the brakes on a potential feel-good story of gaining a point even with a bevy of players out due to national-team duty, injury or suspension. With Victor Bernardez suspended, Nana Attakora on Gold Cup duty and new signing Clarence Goodson yet to join the Quakes, San Jose had to press Brad Ring into duty at center back and the erstwhile midfielder provided a creditable performance alongside Jason Hernandez.
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“I think we put in a great effort and did a lot of things, but at the same time, we made mistakes that we get punished for,” Hernandez told MLSsoccer.com. “You can call it unlucky, but the bottom line is, these are plays that decide a game, and we’re coming on the wrong side of it more times than not.”
One reason for the goals may be systemic; at its scoring best, San Jose’s attack makes great use of the pace and crosses from full backs Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour – which could sap some of their energy at the defensive end. On the Fire's second goal, Dilly Duka used a cut-back to shed Beitashour and Patrick Nyarko beat Morrow to the ensuing cross for his first goal since March 24.
“I think Justin and Steve do go forward well,” Watson said. “We talk a lot about who should go [forward] and when, and who should stay and when. We look at that all the time. One thing I don’t think you can do is just sit back and not send anyone forward. That’s not a way to win a game, either. It’s about finding the right balance, and we’ll continue to work on that.”