The San Jose Earthquakes no doubt wished their three-week World Cup break had started just a little bit sooner.
After a 5-2-1 run that matched the franchise’s best since 2002, the Quakes have lost two of their three matches, culminating with a 2-0 defeat Saturday to host FC Dallas that easily might have been by twice that margin.
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San Jose will have 20 days to ruminate over all that went wrong at Pizza Hut Park, and it was a lengthy list: communication problems in the back, lineup alterations which failed to ignite the Quakes’ attack, the 23rd-minute removal of injured midfielder Andre Luiz and the invisible performances of other notable players.
Most of all, there was an overarching theme of tiredness to the Quakes’ game, perhaps a result of playing three times in eight days. San Jose lost at home last weekend to Toronto, 3-1, and came back to tie Columbus on Wednesday, 2-2.
“We looked on our heels. We looked tired from three games in a week,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop told mlssoccer.com. “But it’s no excuse, there’s a lot of teams that have to do it. It’s a part of MLS. You’ve got to get on with it. I don’t like us not playing very well in two of the three games. It’s a shame to be going into the break on a low.”
Partially in response to fatigue, Yallop made some changes to his offense, switching six-goal scorer Chris Wondolowski from forward to the right wing and moving Arturo Alvarez going the other direction. In addition, Ryan Johnson, scorer of one goal in 10 starts, was benched in favor of Scott Sealy.
Defense was a hallmark of San Jose’s start, so it wasn’t a shock to see the offensively-minded Alvarez moved from the spot where Joey Gjertsen (still hampered by a thigh issue) had been turning in solid performances on defense.
But Yallop’s plan to address that situation created unintended consequences worse than the original problem. Relocated on the right side, Wondolowski was a non-factor for San Jose’s offense, and David Ferreira easily juked free from Wondolowski on Breck Shea’s wide open goal from six yards out.
“I don’t think that the players on show or the system was any of the reason for the result,” Yallop said. “We just were flat. We looked very worn out from our game on Wednesday and we just never played our game.”
Things became more disjointed in San Jose’s attack after Luiz left, once again felled by the left knee that has plagued his MLS career so far. With Ramon Sanchez and Javier Robles not making the 18-man travel roster, Yallop had three rookies to pick from, opting for Justin Morrow.
But putting Morrow on the left wing meant Bobby Convey, who has been San Jose’s best player, had to move inside, where he didn't have much impact.
“(Morrow) didn’t have a chance to play well because we didn’t have the ball,” Yallop said. “So it’s not an easy game for him to come into. And I just wanted some good feet in the middle with Bobby and Brandon (McDonald), but as a team we didn’t move the ball well.”
That’s been a repeated storyline throughout the Quakes’ four losses, and now comes San Jose’s best chance to fix the problem during the season. Yallop plans on taking it easy for first few days off the break, but finish with a 10-day mini-training camp to get back into shape before facing Real Salt Lake on June 25.
“Obviously, our goal was not to go into the break with two losses and a tie,” Alvarez said. “But if you look at the bigger picture, I think we’re a total different team this year than we were the last two years, and we’re sitting in a pretty good spot in the Western Conference. There’s still a lot of games left. . . . The only thing we can do is just learn from our mistakes, work on them and then come up three weeks from now against Salt Lake.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes