As spring turns to summer in California, especially along its famous coastline, a weather phenomenon known as the "June Gloom" delays the day's sunshine with a fog that makes for many a melancholy morning. By the afternoon, things seem to brighten up for those few hours ahead of the setting sun, but the pattern repeats itself with each new obscured sunrise.
For the San Jose Earthquakes, the malaise of the month of July marked their version of a seasonal gloom -- though the effect was even more dismal given that the sun never seemed to shine at all.
The Quakes played seven times over three competitions in July without a win -- without a single point, in fact -- dropping four MLS contests, losing two exhibition matches as part of the International Champions Cup, and crashing out of the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament.
The "oh-for-seven" month was one for the record books too, marking the worst month-long stretch of results in club history. You have to go back to the year 2000, when San Jose finished off the month of August with a 1-6 record in MLS play, 1-7 overall. In seven July 2015 matches, the team conceded 17 goals -- six of those in two games against rivals LA Galaxy -- while only scoring five. The Quakes will be more than happy to rip away the July page on their calendars.
So what happened? Leading goal scorer Chris Wondolowski was away on national team duty for all but the last game, robbing the Quakes of their most lethal offensive weapon and allowing opponents to concentrate their defensive efforts on the remainder of the team, and the team's shots-on-goal per-game average dropped to the bottom of the league. But the team's inability to stop goals was also a persistent issue, especially in lopsided loses to LA and Vancouver.
A game-by-game capsule highlights the lowlights of a July no one in San Jose will be eager to remember.
July 1: San Jose Earthquakes 0-1 LA Galaxy -- Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16
Just four days after the Quakes finished the month of June with an exciting and dominating 3-1 win against the LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium, the two teams lined up against each other at Avaya Stadium in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16. Kinnear fielded a line-up made up almost entirely of second-string players, and after conceding an early goal to Jose Villarreal, battled furiously for an equalizer, but failed to do so, and their rivals stood tall with a 1-0 victory.
"You start the game slow, you can get punished for it and now you're chasing the game," said head coach Dominic Kinnear. "And it doesn't matter how many chances you get, or if you think you're the better team, you need to start off the game correctly."
July 5: Portland Timbers 1-0 San Jose Earthquakes -- MLS Regular Season
With the Open Cup campaign no longer a distraction, San Jose returned to MLS action with a chance to close the gap on the high-flying Timbers. Wondolowski was already with the U.S. men's national team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and playmaker Matias Perez Garcia was out with injury, so goal scoring was expected to be a difficult endeavor. But the defense was stellar on the night until a stoppage time goal by Jack Jewsbury ruined the Quakes stand.
"It's rough," said goalkeeper David Bingham. "You never want to give up goals, especially in the last 5-10 minutes of the game. I think we're disappointed with how we finished that play. We did the hard part. We kept them at bay for 85-plus minutes and maybe just one fluke of a play and that's how it goes. That's not good enough from us. We need to finish that game out and pick up points on the road."
July 10: San Jose Earthquakes 0-2 Houston Dynamo -- MLS Regular Season
Round two of Kinnear versus his former club went to the visitors as Ricardo Clark and Will Bruin ran rampant over the Quakes at Avaya Stadium and emerged with a convincing 2-0 victory. Newly acquired forward Qunicy Amarikwa made his San Jose debut, but it was not enough to spark the Quakes against a Dynamo team that at the time sat below them in the Western Conference. Instead, an overall listless performance from the home side left everyone, including Kinnear, scratching his head at the result.
"I'll take the blame for this one," said Kinnear. "I think every once in a while, a coach doesn't prepare his team properly and I don't think we played well tonight and I think I had a big part in that. I hold my hand up to the guys in the locker room and the coaching staff. A coach is supposed to help his team win the game. Or help his team not lose the game. And I don't think I coached a very good game tonight, and I don't feel good about that."
July 14: San Jose Earthquakes 1-2 Club America -- International Champions Cup
A strong effort by San Jose's first team in the first half staked the Quakes to a one goal lead, but the match turned in the Mexican side's favor against the reserves in the second half, and Club America emerged from Avaya Stadium with a comeback 2-1 win. Sanna Nyassi got into a pre-halftime tangle with America's Paolo Goltz, and both men were shown straight red cards. Overall, 10 cards were shown during the heated affair, as neither side backed down in the supposed "friendly."
"It was a hard fought game," said Earthquakes defender and goalscorer Clarence Goodson. "I think anytime you have an American team and a Mexican team playing, whether its club level or international level, it is always going to be chippy. I don't know why that is. I've played in a lot of them and I laugh when they call them "friendly games". That's what you kind of expect from these games."
July 17: LA Galaxy 5-2 San Jose Earthquakes -- MLS Regular Season
A very bright start at the StubHub Center, punctuated by an Amarikwa brace, seemed to have the Quakes in position to spoil the MLS debut of the LA Galaxy midfielder Steven Gerrard, but the Liverpool legend and reigning MLS MVP Robbie Keane orchestrated a five-goal comeback that completely demoralized San Jose. Dodgy penalty calls notwithstanding, the defeat was arguably the Quakes' worst of the season, and put the rest of the league on notice that LA was head and shoulder above the competition.
"We gave up five goals, we lost the game," said Kinnear. "We stopped doing the good things we were doing early on, we got away from that, and they took advantage of the space we gave them, and they have good players."
July 21: San Jose Earthquakes 1-3 Manchester United -- International Champions Cup
That the Quakes would get any sort of result against the Premier League giants ran contrary to the prevailing wisdom, and Manchester United looked a class above their MLS competition in front of a packed house at Avaya Stadium. Wayne Rooney and company kept the Earthquakes defense busy, and first half goals from Juan Mata and Memphis Depay paced the Red Devils. Fatai Alashe scored a goal to cut the lead to 2-1 right before halftime -- the rookie became the first Earthquake to ever score against Man United -- but the visitors enjoyed the run of play to close out the contest.
"It went as I expected from a talent level stand point," said Alashe. "Take nothing away from those guys, but we have a great group also that do well to compete against whoever it is we are playing that day. I think playing against Manchester United definitely helps the development process. We have guys that rally around each other and make you play better. It helps in matches like this where you play tough and stay competitive."
July 26: Vancouver Whitecaps FC 3-1 San Jose Earthquakes -- MLS Regular Season
The Earthquakes closed out the month with a trip north of the border to BC Place, where they have never won a game, to face a determined Vancouver Whitecaps side. But the return of Wondolowski to the starting lineup, one day after he played 60 minutes for the U.S. against Panama in the Gold Cup Third Place match, did little to reverse the team's fortunes, and the Whitecaps methodically built up a three goal advantage. Amarikwa scored late for San Jose, ending a streak of eight straight goals conceded in MLS play, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Earthquakes from becoming the first Western Conference team in 2015 to lose four matches in a row.
"There are a couple of things, we're playing against good teams," said Kinnear. "We can't just say we should have won this game. Vancouver is a good team, LA is a good team, the Western Conference is stacked pretty high. We didn't start off the game particularly well and we were punished for it. We worked hard to get back into the game but it was too little, too late. Right now, we are playing well, but the results are going against us. We have to go back to basic stuff and just talk about it, look at our mistakes and go back to working hard."
In summary: Seven games played with seven losses; five goals scored and 17 goals conceded; end of 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup run; last place finish in the International Champions Cup; no selections to the MLS All-Star game; ninth place standing in the Western Conference.
But it's not all doom and gloom -- July did have a few moments of sunshine. The trade with the Chicago Fire that brought home 2009 MLS SuperDraft pick Quincy Amarikwa has already paid dividends, as the feisty forward in three appearances has already assumed the number two spot on the Quakes 2015 goal scoring list behind Wondolowski. Following a successful trial earlier in the month, U.S. youth international midfielder Marc Pelosi joined the squad via the MLS Allocation Order process, immediately injecting some youthful energy into the squad.
In fact, despite losing their way in July, San Jose is just seven points behind the final playoff spot in the west, and it has two games in hand on those teams above it in the table. Start August off on the right foot -- add the left foot as well for good measure -- and the Earthquakes can still forecast a their participation in the postseason chase come the last two months of the season when they have seven of nine league games at home.
Still, the task is daunting for Kinnear and his squad, as they currently sit one point above last place in the Western Conference and cannot afford to slip any further away from the "red line" that delineates the MLS Cup playoffs bound top six teams from the early vacationers. Last season, San Jose infamously fell into a 15-game winless funk to end its campaign and finished below now-defunct Chivas USA in the west. This year's Earthquakes are a much more confident bunch than those Quakes, so such a slide seems slight, but they will need to regroup to avoid a repeat of 2014.
Step one in their recovery comes Sunday -- the second day of the new month of August -- when the Portland Timbers come calling at Avaya Stadium. Kinnear and crew lost a heart-breaker in the Rose City a month ago, and they will want to take a measure of revenge on Sunday. Getting back in the chase for the playoffs won't come instantly, but a victory against the Timbers would propel them on the path to meeting that goal.