When you follow a team as completely as I do, you tend to get overwhelmed with information and insight that occasionally obscures what is perceived by the casual observer. In my station as a beat reporter assigned to the San Jose Earthquakes, I am responsible for observing the players, coaches and team tactics on a daily basis, and providing some modicum of critical analysis. As a columnist and commentator for the team, I am also encouraged to immerse myself in team activities and interact with many of the players. The effect of these two roles is that I get first hand stories and observations on matters that impact the organization on and off the field.
By my very nature I am a positive thinking person, but in my role of critical observer I owe it to my viewers to provide as unbiased an assessment of the team as possible — without compromising any the access I am entrusted with by those same people. With that in mind, I plan to look back at each Earthquakes game through the lens of the press box — keep in mind I am much more likely to be yelling my support from the stands — and from post-game interviews to assess the Good, the Bad and the Ugly for the Quakes here on Quake, Rattle and Goal. I’ll call it The GBU on QRG for the sake of making a neat headline. Most of the time these categories will deal with performances on the field, but can also include issues outside of the match action. With that in mind, let’s take a look at San Jose’s 1-1 draw with the Toronto FC from last Saturday night.
Good — Easy enough to find the good this week — the sequence of play that led to Simon Dawkins goal in the 38th minute. While the team started the game at a good level, there was something missing in their ability to string passes together as easily as it looked in the prior three games. Credit to Toronto for clogging the middle of the field and disrupting the flow of the ball among Khari Stephenson, Sam Cronin, and Dawkins — but even the linkage with the wingers was not as crisp as expected. After failing to capitalize in the opening minutes, the Quakes suddenly found themselves down 1-0 after a defensive miscue and a vintage Alan Gordon opportunistic goal. For some reason, as has been the case at Buck Shaw so far in this 2011 season, the team seemed to need going down a goal to step up their play measurably in response.
Less than 10 minutes after Gordon’s goal — time where the Quakes dominated possession and opportunities — the breakthrough came on the simplest of give-and-go’s between Dawkins and Chris Wondolowski. The ball into Wondo near the edge of the area was well taken and turned back into the path of Dawkins just in front of the TFC defenders. The Hotspur product still needed to take the slightest of touches to clear the defense before executing a perfect ball to the far post and into the side netting. Dawkins did not try to blast the ball at goal — a problem some of the other Quakes are experiencing right now — he simply placed it beyond the reach of goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Bad — I’ve already mentioned the mistake of the miscommunication between Cronin and Jon Busch that led to the Toronto goal — one simple miscue and you can be easily punished — so wanted to turn attention to something that was happening off the field. More precisely, what was not happening off the field. I am referring to the lack of an exciting match-day atmosphere at Buck Shaw Stadium. Chief among the reasons for the lackadaisical crowd, beyond the relatively low attendance, was the “censorship” imposed on the Earthquakes biggest — and loudest — supporters group the 1906 Ultras. Put on probation by the Quakes front office for a Tifo display that some considered tasteless and a few screamed out was offensive, the Ultras responded by sitting on their hands for the entirety of the match. While it made it more interesting that you could hear the comments being made on the field, and that you could nearly have a conversation with the players closest to you from the stands, the Ultras and the other Quakes supporters groups are a vital part of the match-day experience. Whether or not the Tifo was in poor taste, MLS needs to stand behind their rhetoric that the hardcore fans are their focus and find a better way to cooperate with these groups.
Ugly — This one is simple — where was the finishing touch for the Earthquakes. The team had 16 shots on the night, with 11 alone in the first half, but only put 7 on frame and scored just once. Throw in the numerous times where players could have taken shots at what looked to be opportune moments, and that number of missed chances grows to above 20. Three straight home games to start the 2011 season, and the Quakes have vastly out-shot their opponents and have just 3 goals and a 0-1-2 record to show for it. Tied for most egregious in lacking results in the Quakes’ offense are Wondolowski and Ryan Johnson. The former missed a proverbial sitter for the third straight home game while the latter looked more interesting in shooting his way to inclusion in future starting line-ups instead of working more to get quality crosses into the area for his teammates. In a post game interview I held with goalkeeper Jon Busch, he pulled no punches in calling out the offensive to start producing goals. I can’t argue with the veteran ‘keeper on this one.
Obviously these are just the highlights — and lowlights — from the Toronto FC match. I’d be very interesting in knowing what your GBU’s are for Saturday, and how they compare to other fans of the Earthquakes. Whether on the field or off the field, the players or the coaching staff, from the parking lots to the Epicenter fan zone, please share in the comments below: