With their 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo last weekend, the San Jose Earthquakes failed to protect a lead and ended up losing out on all three points for the third time this season. They now lead MLS in points dropped from a winning position, a dubious honor shared with Sporting Kansas City, and are virtually eliminated from postseason consideration. Last season, the Earthquakes found a way to win games like that in Houston, but this year they are too often on the losing side in close matches.
One curious subplot in the loss to the Houston came late in the game when the match was still tied at one goal apiece. Whereas Dynamo head coach used his remaining two substitutes to bring in fresh legs on a hot and humid night at Robertson Stadium, Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop elected to keep his starting XI essentially intact. For the home side, rookie Will Bruin entered the match in the 74th minute and just 5 minutes later scored the match winner when he outsprinted and then sealed off defender Steven Beitashour to volley home a cross into the Quakes area by Luiz Camargo.
The Earthquakes at times in the second half seemed to be wasting time off the clock, most noticeable in the way goalkeeper Jon Busch often delayed restarts from goal kicks. For a team that needed a win in the most desperate of ways, the tactics were more than just a curiosity. When Houston seized the lead off the goal from Bruin, coach Yallop finally responded by bringing in the fresh legs of forwards Matt Luzunaris and Maxwell Griffin in the 83rd minute.
The two rookies brought a needed boost of energy to the match for the visitors, but their efforts went little toward helping the Earthquakes look likely to break through for an equalizing goal. Over the final 10 minutes of the match, Luzunaris and Griffin kept the Houston defenders honest with their constant pressure, but as a whole the team did little to help them in the offensive third. When the Dynamo punted the ball clear from danger, the Earthquakes fired back by lumping the ball back into the Houston half with little intent of building up possession. Aside from the effort extended from the two new forwards, and fellow second half substitute Jacob Peterson, the Quakes did not manage a single quality scoring opportunity in their time on the field.
Was coach Yallop correct in his decision to keep Luzunaris and Griffin on the bench until the 83rd minute? Did they show enough in their 10 minutes to make you think the team could have used them earlier, or was it actually a step back for the team to bring in the inexperienced duo? In a game the Earthquakes could not afford to lose, what other options should Yallop have used in an effort to restore the team’s lead in the latter stages of the second half?