Before the pounding bass music pouring from the scoreboard speakers had ceased reverberating through Buck Shaw Stadium; before the fifth consecutive sell-out crowd had turned their attention away from celebrating and back to the action on the pitch; before the replay of Chris Wondolowski’s brilliant goal flashing on the Jumbotron had completed, Sporting Kansas City’s Teal Bunbury scored a lightning-flash quick equalizer for the visitors in what would end up a 1-1 draw. For the sixth time this season, the San Jose Earthquakes had failed to protect a lead and settled for a single point for their efforts.
Overall in 2011, the Earthquakes have now registered 14 draws in 31 matches — which translates into 45% of their season so far — and puts them at the top of the list of Western Conference teams. Factor in the right side of the country, and the Quakes fall into a tie for third with the Philadelphia Union, as the New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire pace MLS with 16 draws apiece. For each of the four teams at the top of the league list, their number of draws in 2011 marks a franchise record for sharing points. The San Jose Earthquakes previous "best" season was in 2004, when they finished with an overall record of 9-10-11.
Much has been made of the number of draws in MLS this season, with the theories presented ranging from a league featuring more parity among teams than ever before, to the length of the schedule encouraging head coaches to play with more caution instead of always going for the win. The tired adage of "win at home and draw on the road" also is bandied around in the discussion, with some feeling that the defensive-first mentality of visiting teams resulting in more stalemates. Overall, in a season that has seen more matches finish with the two participants level on goals, the net effect has been to see little separation in the standings for the majority of teams.
The San Jose Earthquakes, by virtue of their franchise high 14 draws in 2011, have amassed just 32 points and sit on the brink of postseason qualification elimination with three regular season matches remaining. While it would be easy to point a finger at the six matches where the Quakes held a lead only to concede equalizing goals as a major culprit in their dearth of points, San Jose to date has also played five matches where they came from down a goal to earn the draw. Unfortunately, though the number of matches is virtually the same, the math does not equate the two scenarios.
Simply put, if your team is in a position to win a game and you concede an equalizer to finish in a tie, you have effectively dropped from a 3-point result to a 1-point result — a net minus-2 points in the standings. Conversely, coming back in a match to earn a draw after trailing earlier effectively means you gained one point instead of none — a net plus-1 point in the standings. Looking at the 2011 Earthquakes season, that means that in the 11 ties (3 of their 14 total draws were scoreless affairs) where either the team coughed up a lead or came back late to draw level, the net effect to their position in the standings is minus-7 points. In other words, if the Quakes had won when ahead and lost when behind, they would be 7 points better in the MLS table — which would put them (simplistically neglecting to factor the changes in results for the Quakes’ opponents) a single point behind the Red Bulls for the final MLS Cup playoff berth.
Draws are a big part of the game of soccer, and some degree of these results will always occur season to season, so it is not reasonable to expect the full three points will be earned in ever game the Earthquakes play. But viewing the season through the lens of those lost opportunities to gain in the standings brings into focus the struggles San Jose has experienced this season. Those minus-12 points from the 6 coughed up leads have haunted the Quakes throughout 2011, and have only served to hasten their having to look to 2012 for their next chance at playing postseason soccer.