In a turn-back-the-clocks performance from San Jose that matched their first meeting of the season with Chivas USA, the Earthquakes dropped a one-sided match to the Goats by a score of 2-0. Second half goals from Ben Zemanski and Nick LaBrocca sunk the visitors on a night when they could get nothing going offensively against a rather stout Chivas defensive back four.
Head coach Frank Yallop sent out a 4-4-2 formation starting line-up that paired Sam Cronin and Brad Ring in central midfield. Neither one known for their offensive prowess, the decision to start the two holding midfielders looked to be in response to wanting to provide cover for central defender Chris Leitch. Facing a Chivas USA side that likes to exploit space on the wings to test defenders, the Quakes responded by ceding the flanks and packing in the middle. The strategy worked for much of the first half, when midfielder Simon Elliott tried to jumpstart numerous forays into the offensive third with long balls to the wings, but Chivas was still able to find some select shots on target.
For the Earthquakes, collapsing into a more defensive looking formation gave them little room to work when they did recover possession. Too many long balls in the direction of Steven Lenhart went wanting, and attempts to bring the ball up the wings through midfielders Ryan Johnson and Joey Gjertsen too often left them pinned to the touchlines with little room to maneuver and few passing options in the center of the field. Without players moving into positions to create passing triangles, Chivas easily gained control of the ball and enjoyed a nearly 2 to 1 advantage in first half possession.
Ring was very active on the night, but the limitations in his passing game too often led to giveaways and high-risk attempts to link up with Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski. Moving the Golden Boot winner up top with Lenhart helped him become more active in the game, as compared to the recent draw with the New York Red Bulls, but he rarely had chances to run into dangerous positions to receive the ball because his teammates had so few touches in the offensive third. Instead, Wondo and Lenhart were forced to take low percentage long distance shots on target that were easily corralled by goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.
Lenhart’s night went from bad to worse when he was awarded a yellow card in the second half for diving — he might have been embellishing his fall, but he was tripped up slightly by defender Heath Pearce on the play — and will now miss the Earthquakes next match for the accumulation of five cautions so far this season. His best attempts on goal were weak headers from distance that did little to test the ‘keeper. So much so were the Quakes unable to maintain any possession in the center of the field that Lenhart often tracked back from the offensive third just to give long ball deliverers someone to aim for. And being so far from goal, even when he was able to collect the ball, the team needed others to step into the attack to have any chance of moving the ball forward. Disappointingly, that rarely happened.
The Earthquakes did see the season debuts of Tim Ward and Omar Jasseh, both off the substitutes bench, after both struggled mightily to recover from hamstring injuries. Ward came in for the injured Steven Beitashour, while Jasseh came in for Cronin and looked to inject some life into an otherwise moribund team. Try as they might, and they were certainly complicit in the proceedings, neither could turn the Quakes’ fortunes on the night, and the team dropped a lackluster 2-0 match to the Goats. Swept in the season series by Chivas USA, the Earthquakes reach the halfway point of the 2011 campaign with a 5-6-6 record and 23 points in the Western Conference standings — a rather average record for a rather average team.