SAN JOSE, Calif. – With more than 11 MLS seasons under his belt as a head coach, San Jose Earthquakes boss Dominic Kinnear is too wily to fall for the “name your best XI” game.
“You never want to look and go, ‘Well, if my team was fully healthy and nobody was called away, this is what we would be,’” Kinnear said. “I don’t think you should ever plan for that because it’s hardly ever the case.”
With that being said, the Earthquakes – finally at full strength along their backline after early-season injuries – are using what appears to be their first-choice foursome of defenders: Jordan Stewart, Clarence Goodson, Victor Bernardez and Marvell Wynne.
Certainly, the recent performances have been positive. Those four players in front of goalkeeper David Bingham have limited opponents to one goal or less in each of the last three matches.
“I think we have limited opportunities, which is great,” Goodson told reporters Tuesday. “Really, look at any chances that have come up during the little run we’re on, and I think it’s kind of been our own errors, our own mistakes – [such as] giving the ball away in some difficult positions. ... But yeah, all in all, I think we’ve done pretty well.”
That fits the expectations of a highly experienced group. Three of the quartet are 33, with Wynne the outlier at 29. Bernardez and Goodson boast World Cup experience (for Honduras and the US national team, respectively), while Stewart has previously played in the English Premier League and Wynne has racked up nearly 250 MLS appearances.
Of course, even a veteran and savvy back line can have its momentary lapses, which is part of how 10-man Orlando got their goal in Sunday's 1-1 draw.
A long pass from a free kick inside Orlando’s half bounced just inside San Jose’s penalty area with Bernardez and Orlando forward Cyle Larin in hot pursuit. Coming the other way was far-ranging goalkeeper Bingham, who missed the ball but struck Larin, giving the Lions a spot kick -- and the Quakes a bit of heartburn at undoing their good work to that point.
- Get more San Jose Earthquakes news at SJEarthquakes.com
“We, as a back four, need to be a little more tuned in at that moment,” Goodson said. “It didn’t look like they were ever going to score. It was going to take something – maybe a set piece or something a little bit fluky, and it was a set piece, in the end, that beat us.
“It’s kind of a situation where the communication lets us down for a very short period of time, but it cost us in the end.”
The sense that the Quakes are setting up opponents – despite sitting tied for fifth in the league with a 1.00 goals-against average – helps explain why Goodson feels like there’s still room to get better as San Jose chase their first playoff berth since crashing out of the 2012 postseason following a Supporters’ Shield-winning campaign.
“Certainly, there’s room for improvement,” Goodson said. “You don’t want to peak 12 games in. You want to keep improving. The summer is difficult in MLS, with the travel, and we want to continue on this stretch and in this form for as long as possible. It’s almost inevitable that there’ll be a little dropoff, but we have to make sure that isn’t in the next game.”