SAN JOSE, Calif. – In 2012, San Jose Earthquakes forwards Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart each set career highs in goalscoring with 13 and 10, respectively, in MLS play. In 2013, those numbers dropped to four each. So far in 2014, the duo have combined to play 1,452 minutes without a single goal between them.
Given that team president David Kaval has said the Quakes are looking for more creative attacking help in the midfield, is this the end of a target forward era in San Jose?
Not quite yet, according to San Jose head coach Mark Watson.
“I don’t think it’s a dying breed,” he said this week. “I still think in certain teams, that target player is important. He lets all the players around him do their thing and gives you that little bit of stability in the center of the park.”
Watson has put either Lenhart or Gordon up top in 14 of 16 games, and subbed in Atiba Harris – the MLS leader in aerial targets in 2013 – on one of the two remaining occasions. There have been chances for both players in recent weeks – Gordon forced a pair of late-game saves from Bill Hamid in D.C. United’s 2-1 victory against San Jose last weekend – but the results have not followed.
“It is frustrating, for everyone involved,” Watson said. “We’ve got two seasoned veterans that have played a lot of years and scored a bunch of goals. They’re probably the two most frustrated people of anyone. So we’ll continue to work at it. Ultimately, we have to score some goals. So we’ll keep working on it and do whatever we have to to have the goals start flying in.”
While team president David Kaval – who said this week that the club is looking to add attacking help in the midfield – and general manager John Doyle line up potential transfers, Watson continues to try to find more goals from his current roster.
“The first thing right now is try to help this group score goals,” Watson said. “We look at ourselves first. We look at our movement, we look at our service, we look at chances we have got and the finishing, or lack thereof. We’ll look at that first and try to address it here and on video, try to coach our guys to score goals...
“It is the goal-scorers, but it’s kind of everyone. Other guys have to have production, and service is important as well. It’s not just the final act of finishing. There’s more to this story, and we’re looking at everything.”
The Quakes have talked about getting away from their “one-dimensional” style of play in Watson’s first full season as coach, but their propensity for falling behind – which has happened in 10 of their 16 matches to date, the second-worst mark in the league, trailing only Portland – has left San Jose relying on their direct style more than they would like.
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And the lack of goals for Gordon and Lenhart – two key members of 2012’s “Goonies” brigade of late-game point-savers – has made those early deficits more damaging in the standings; San Jose is 1-8-1 when conceding an initial goal in 2014.
“We need to attack that and nip that in the bud, because it creates such a difficult [situation],” Kaval said this week. “And in many ways, the team had been constructed that way. We always scored late. But at some point, that becomes almost too big a hurdle to overcome. And over time I think it makes it more and more challenging.”
Watson has tweaked his formations in the past, and another change might be necessary going into New York on Saturday. He could try putting Chris Wondolowski on top of a 4-1-4-1 with Yannick Djalo in the middle of the park – assuming that Shea Salinas is healthy enough to move back into the starting XI on the wing.
Homegrown rookie Tommy Thompson, whose body of attacking highlights at Indiana University has fans salivating, is not an option after joining the US national team under-20 squad this week. Thompson scored in the Americans’ 4-0 win against Bermuda on Wednesday, and the US finishes play in the National Training Center Invitational against Australia on Friday.