For the second time this week, the San Jose Earthquakes struggled offensively against a weaker opponent and failed to extend their lead in the competitive MLS Western Conference. A midweek 2-1 loss at Portland was followed up with a scoreless draw at FC Dallas, raising their season points total to 37, but only keeping them one point ahead of resurgent Real Salt Lake. The Utah team is the Earthquakes next opponent, and first place will be on the line for the third time in as many meetings this season between the two teams.
The Earthquakes, playing without Steven Lenhart, partnered Alan Gordon with Chris Wondolowski up top, and the two forwards found it difficult to break down the Dallas defense. While FCD brought a 12 game winless streak into the game — and saw that run of futility extend to 13 with the scoreless draw against San Jose — they were showing signs of turning the corner, especially on their current homestand. A renewed effort on defense and the re-introduction of 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira to the starting line-up for the first time in over a year seemed to provide a spark to the Dallas side.
After conceding the majority of possession to the visitors in the first 45 minutes, FCD started the second half much more brightly. The introduction of Jackson as a halftime substitute changed the dynamic of the match and tilted meaningful possession in favor of the home side. The Earthquakes tried to counter with the substitution of ex-Dallas player Marvin Chavez with Texas-raised Shea Salinas, but FCD was still playing as the better side.
The quick two-yellow-card sequence that team captain Ramiro Corrales experienced in the 80th minute was distressing enough for the Earthquakes, and some questioning of the referee’s decisions is in order, but the rest of the team did not let the ejection phase them in their defensive efforts. Instead, bunkering down into their own half baited the Dallas defense to play their line almost at the centerline, opening up plenty of space for Earthquakes counterattacks.
Indeed, twice in the match’s last 10 minutes, the Earthquakes nearly stole a goal against the run of play with long passes over the top of the advanced FC Dallas defensive line. The first breakaway was led by Salinas as he galloped forward into the Dallas area, but a slight hesitation in attempting to square a pass to Wondolowski let the defense snuff out the opportunity. Salinas would have done better to pass the ball earlier, but Wondolowski appeared to be in an offside position during the break, and the play may have been whistled dead if the pass had been attempted.
Wondolowski has his own opportunity to earn the Earthquakes another late game victory, when in the 87th minute he was afforded the ball 15 yards behind the Dallas defense. Unable to corral the pass in stride, Wondolowski was caught by defender Carlos Rodriguez inside the Dallas area and forced to take a shot from an acute angle. Goalkeeper Kevin Hartman was nearly punished for hesitating to come out at Wondolowski, but he was just able to slow the shot enough to smother the ball when it trickled under his legs.
While the Earthquakes offense was left to rue their lost scoring opportunities, Jon Busch and the rest of the defense could take pride in limiting Dallas to two shots on target over the last 10 minutes of the match. From the midfielders back, San Jose pestered Dallas on the ball, and despite being a man down, played tremendous team defense. A long shot from Rodriguez deep into stoppage time was the best chance FCD could muster, but Busch was there to easily punch the ball away.
Did the Earthquakes play at their best in Frisco? Hard to say, but in earning their first clean sheet since a 1-0 victory at Seattle back on March 31, the team did show they could still take care of business on the defensive side of the ball in a match where the offense struggled. A complete team effort will need to be delivered next weekend when the Earthquakes host Real Salt Lake at Buck Shaw Stadium. Twice already this season San Jose has overcome RSL to become conference standings leaders, but with roles reversed in the two teams’ third meeting of 2012, the Earthquakes won’t want to drop back to second place.
Match Highlights from San Jose Earthquakes 0-0 draw at FC Dallas: