"Are you not entertained?"
In what was the San Jose Earthquakes’ third game in eight days, head coach Frank Yallop could have been excused if he had instructed his team to take it easy in their game against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. Instead, he did very much the opposite, and the Quakes roared out of the gates to complete a season sweep of the Sounders with a 2-1 victory at CenturyLink Field.
In three MLS regular season games between the two sides, the Earthquakes triumphed by a single goal in each game. Saturday night, San Jose rode first half strikes from Simon Dawkins and Chris Wondolowski to an early lead, and then defended valiantly throughout Seattle’s comeback attempt in securing the win.
The Earthquakes improved their record to 18-6-6 and increased their lead atop the Western Conference standings to 11 points over the Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. Seattle, with the loss, dropped to fourth in the conference and now sits 12 points behind San Jose. The 18th win of the season for the Earthquakes was the most they’ve recorded in a season since their Supporters’ Shield winning campaign of 2005. In the race for the Shield, San Jose increased their lead over Sporting Kansas City to five points with four games remaining for both teams.
One of the talking points going into the match was how the Sounders would handle playing against the more "physical" Earthquakes. In the four matches that Hilario Grajeda has worked for each team, San Jose had 22 fouls suffered and 30 fouls committed, while Seattle had 55 fouls suffered and 46 fouls committed. By all accounts, more fouls happen when the Sounders play, and Saturday was no exception. In the 2-1 Quakes win, Grajeda whistled both teams for 13 fouls each.
Some of that foul calling came from the tactics employed by both sides. In the first half, the Earthquakes pressed high up the field in an effort to minimize the time the Sounders had to develop attacks down the touchlines. When they were beat, simple "professional fouls" limited Seattle from settling into an offensive rhythm. The high pressure from San Jose also resulted in both goals, including Dawkins’ 2nd minute stunner that was started by a turnover created by Mehdi Ballouchy.
Keep reading to learn how Yallop’s decision making helped secure victory.
The second half saw a reversal in tactics for both sides, but coach Yallop adjusted by using his substitutions to bring in big bodies who could dominate in the air. With Seattle desperate for an equalizer over the last hour of the match, they continued to swing crosses and corner kicks into the mixer hoping to break through. However, except for one case, the taller Earthquakes won the aerial battle and cleared the ball from danger. Only a Fredy Montero header that skied over the crossbar late in the game came close to sinking the Quakes defense.
Absence of speedy wing play also affected the way team could defend in second half. With Seattle pressure so far up the field, having the injured Shea Salinas or Marvin Chavez (or even Sam Garza) on the wings to orchestrate counterattacks would have been beneficial. Without that, the Sounders were able to continue pressing big numbers into the Quakes half and by the end, the Earthquakes defenders were left to hoof the ball upfield to alleviate any danger. Trying to dribble out of the back, like Alan Gordon mistakenly did at least once, only led to turnovers deep in their own half.
Coach Yallop called it a brave defense effort after the game, and praised the players for a bend-don’t-break defensive mentality. While not a hallmark of this season’s team, where comebacks and generally the script and not defensive stands, the 2-1 victory was very important in the run-up to the MLS postseason, as both teams stand a good chance of seeing each other again with a trip to MLS Cup in the balance.
One further note: On the road against the Cascadia teams, the Earthquakes improved to 2-3-0 in 2012. They have a chance to even up their Cascadia road record in the season finale at the Portland Timbers – a team that San Jose has not been able to beat in four previous meetings. Still, if the Earthquakes take care of business over the next couple of weeks and are able to secure the Shield, then the result in Portland will not matter. A losing record against the Cascadia trio would then become a footnote in a most memorable San Jose season.
GAME NOTES AND QUOTES AND VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS:
San Jose Earthquakes (18-6-6, 60 pts.) vs. Seattle Sounders FC (13-7-9, 48 pts.)
Sept. 22, 2012 — CenturyLink Field
San Jose Earthquakes — Jon Busch, Steven Beitashour, Victor Bernardez, Jason Hernandez, Justin Morrow, Mehdi Ballouchy (Steven Lenhart 65), Sam Cronin, Rafael Baca (Ike Opara 88), Simon Dawkins (Ramiro Corrales 60), Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon.
Statistics: Total Shots: 17; Shots on Goal: 5; Saves: 0; Fouls: 13; Offsides: 0; Corner Kicks: 5.
Seattle Sounders FC — Michael Gspurning, Adam Johansson (Mario Martinez 82), Jeff Parke, Patrick Ianni (Jhon Kennedy Hurtado 49), Leonardo Gonzalez, Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso, Christian Tiffert, Steve Zakuani (David Estrada 71), Fredy Montero, Sammy Ochoa.
Statistics: Total Shots: 13; Shots on Goal: 1; Saves: 3; Fouls: 13; Offside: 0; Corner Kicks: 10.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES HEAD COACH FRANK YALLOP
"We started the game well and played a great first half to get the lead. Seattle put a lot of pressure on in the second half and we bent a little but we didn’t break. We did a lot of hard work in the second half and got an important result. This team just has great spirit and they always push through to the end."
On Chris Wondolowski’s goals this week:
"He has continued to work hard all season and he has scored a lot of big goals. He had a bit of a dip so we gave him a little rest on Wednesday against Portland and he responded by scoring two goals. Now he gets another tonight and I think he has more goals in him for these last four games."
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES FORWARD CHRIS WONDOLOWSKI
On 10th game-winning goal:
"A lot of my goals are just team goals as you saw tonight. Victor Bernardez played a great ball and all I had to do was touch it into the net. I do pride myself on scoring important goals that help the team win so it does feel good to score that many game-winning goals. This team gives me a lot of opportunities and I just need to finish them."
On two halves:
"We came out and executed our game plan very well in the first half and we found some space. We put them under pressure and created a lot of good chances. I think we dropped our line a bit too deep in the second half, which is something we need to work on. But we defended very well tonight and were able to get the win. When you have big center backs like we do, it makes it difficult to score."
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES MIDFIELDER SIMON DAWKINS
"It was a good pass from Alan Gordon to set me up. I took some touches and I saw some space so I decided to have a go. I am glad it went in to get us off to a good start."
On Quakes performance:
"We have a good group here and they work hard every game and we have earned everything we have gotten. Seattle is a good team but we came in tonight and played well right from the start. It was important to show them why we are on top of the league. It was a great result against a good team."