SAN JOSE, Calif. – There are almost as many explanations for the San Jose Earthquakes’ recent offensive explosion as there have been goals flying in for Dominic Kinnear’s club.
Is it Chris Wondolowski’s new positioning? Anibal Godoy’s crisp passing? Improved defensive work higher up the pitch? More patience as a whole?
In the wake of a combined 8-0 scoreline while beating Colorado, Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United in their three-game winning streak, the most correct answer might be saying “yes” to all.
In the officially recorded lineups for their matches at Kansas City and D.C., the Quakes listed Wondolowski – the club’s all-time leading scorer, and now a 100-goal man in regular-season play with San Jose – back to his typical forward slot. The team captain put up a brace in San Jose's 5-0 stunner at Sporting, then added another goal in the 2-0 win at D.C. United to bring his season total up to 12.
In point of fact, Wondolowski still played significantly underneath target man Quincy Amarikwa, not that much farther ahead of his previous official position in central midfield.
“For me, I was always in the box, wherever I was playing – midfield or wherever,” Wondolowski said. “I think that even as a withdrawn forward or at the point of the midfield, I’m still able to get in the box, but [the move] allowed us to get our line of pressure a little bit higher, and that’s something we’ve been working on the last couple of weeks. I think that’s what really helped us; we won the ball in dangerous areas. We were a little too deep in past weeks, and then you’re defending and you’re trying to start from goal kicks and start from the keeper’s hands, rather than winning the ball in midfield and our offensive third.”
Kinnear – who growled at a reporter asking about the “formation change” after the 5-0 win against SKC – allowed on Tuesday that Wondolowski is lining up “5 or 10 yards higher” when Godoy and Fatai Alashe man the center of midfield. But it’s not as simple as just crediting that shift, the coach told reporters.
“I just think our decisions on the ball were just better,” Kinnear said. “The one [play] I will say he did sneak up high was the one for the penalty [kick against Sporting Kansas City], when he snuck in behind Matt Besler. But all the other ones, he’s still coming in late, and we’re connecting passes. Let’s be honest: When you connect passes, you have better possession, and when you hold the ball up, you have better possession and you can get people closer to goal. That was especially the case in Kansas City. [Amarikwa’s] patience on the ball is helpful for everybody.”
Amarikwa wasn’t alone in that aspect of taking a beat rather than perhaps running first and planning later.
“We’re taking an extra touch, where before, I thought we would rush,” Kinnear said. “The Colorado game, and the Houston game, in particular, we were getting behind their defense, but instead of driving at the goal, we would cross the ball a little bit early, and it wouldn’t give us that chance. If you look at, say, Cordell [Cato]’s two goals [against Kansas City] – Shea [Salinas] taking that extra touch, it brings more people towards him, and it also gives time for guys to get into the box in better positions.”
It’s not clear if the Quakes will be able to recreate their winning lineup from the road trip when they host LA Galaxy on Friday night (11 pm ET, UniMás); Alashe’s status is up in the air after being subbed off in the 67th minute against D.C. The rookie is listed by the club as suffering a right leg injury.
Newcomer Marc Pelosi, who replaced Alashe on Sunday, is one possibility if Kinnear has to – or simply wants to – go another direction. Another intriguing option would be Matias Perez Garcia, but after the Argentine playmaker tweaked his left hamstring twice in less than a month, Kinnear said this week that the club will wait until the 30-year-old is 100 percent over the injury before putting him back on the field.
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Whoever plays with Godoy will have to ensure that the Galaxy don’t get a running start at attacking San Jose’s goal. With a league-leading 49 goals and even more firepower on board in the form of Steven Gerrard and Giovani dos Santos, the Galaxy will test a Quakes club that has limited opponents to a league-best six goals in 10 home matches thus far in 2015.
“The main thing is, we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot,” Wondolowski said. “We can’t have any mistakes, especially mentally – just falling asleep in certain areas, whether it’s a set piece or just not tracking runners. I think it’s going to take a complete game from us: Tackling, tracking runners and finishing our opportunities.”
Said Kinnear: “You fall into the trap of, when the ball turns over, they’re really dangerous. And it may be 80 yards away from goal, but it doesn’t matter. Robbie Keane is such a key player for them, and he makes the right decisions, makes the right movements to get open. He doesn’t really waste possession. That, for us, will be talked about a lot.”