SJ defense quietly emerges as one of MLS' best

Earthquakes resurgence due in large part to their lockdown D

 

Having given up only two goals in eight matches, the Los Angeles Galaxy are widely and rightly acknowledged as MLS’ best defense.

When it comes to being Avis to the Galaxy’s Hertz, however, there’s a surprising dark horse in the conversation. A year after being spindled and mutilated every which way by opponents, the San Jose Earthquakes are suddenly the proud owners of an underrated effective defense.

In their past five games -- four of them victories -- the Quakes have allowed only four goals. Included in that stretch were home shutouts of New England, Colorado and New York.

It’s far cry from the same-old, same-old look that San Jose had in losing 3-0 to Real Salt Lake to open the season.

“The three goals to start with kind of puts you back a little bit, in [terms of] goals-against average, but other than that, we’ve been pretty solid on that front,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “Three home games and no goals against is always good. I think that we’ll find in the next two away games how we cope with some teams that are going to come at us a little bit.”

Those teams would be the Revolution and Sounders, who are slated to put San Jose’s defense to a couple of road tests. What they’ll find is a group that is far more organized than in the past.

“You can’t say enough about having a group of guys together, playing together and then understanding each other,” right back Chris Leitch told MLSsoccer.com. “Not only the group of guys, but a whole team listening to what a coach says and being able to pick up little things throughout the year. Eventually those little things get said enough to where you just do it automatically.”

Leitch said the team is focusing in training on holding individual players accountable for their defensive effort, which is translating to game days.

“We do drills in training where maybe it’s one or two guys going into a group of eight or nine guys trying to play a possession, and those two guys have to work their asses off to get the ball,” Leitch said. “It’s hard, but it’s holding those guys accountable. I think it’s something that we stress, it’s something that we work on and, thank God, something that has provided some results in making us a hard team to break down and thus a hard team to beat.”

The Quakes also have ratcheted up their volume on defense, providing communication that thus far has helped ensure San Jose’s adherence to its principles of shape on D.

“One thing we’re saying to each other is just, ‘Give some type of information,’” center back Bobby Burling said. “No information is bad information. It’s always good to hear each other’s voices and when you’ve got guys on the back line like Chris Leitch, Ramiro [Corrales], Jason [Hernandez] and Joe [Cannon], that’s a lot of experience right there.”

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes