The rise of FC Dallas winger Brek Shea moved into high gear on June 5, when the third-year Texas native scored twice in the span of three minutes against the San Jose Earthquakes to give his team a 2-0 victory.
Shea’s second goal in that contest came mostly at the expense of Quakes right back Chris Leitch. Leitch, locked in one-on-one coverage on a quick Dallas counterattack, couldn’t immediately contain a long lead pass from David Ferreira, giving the 6-foot-4 Shea a chance to outmuscle him for control. Shea eventually slotted the ball past San Jose ‘keeper Joe Cannon for the clincher.
So while Leitch might not have had San Jose’s rematch with FC Dallas explicitly circled on his calendar while he spent the better part of two months rehabilitating a strained left hip incurred during a friendly against Tottenham Hotspur on July 17, he was most certainly aware of the task he would be facing in just his second match back.
“I kind of pride myself that if I don’t have the best game one game against a guy, then I make sure the next time that we play them, I’m on top of my game and that doesn’t repeat itself,” Leitch said.
Saturday at Buck Shaw Stadium, the only thing repeating was Leitch being a thorn in the side of Shea. The ninth-year veteran, playing just his second league match since the World Cup break, hounded Shea to the point where he played almost no part in a 0-0 tie with San Jose. Outside of one offside call, Shea was a non-entity in the box score.
“[His] pride was hurt in Dallas, I would think,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said of Leitch. “He showed a real terrific determination and desire to not get beat tonight, to make sure that he’s tough, strong and aggressive.”
Leitch wasn’t alone in that mind set. This might have been the Quakes’ most impregnable defensive shell since May 22, when they went to Seattle and limited the Sounders to three shots on goal. San Jose defenders were throwing themselves in front of opponents with abandon in that game, willing to sacrifice a body part for a blocked shot.
That same ethos was in evidence Saturday. And when you combined that with some poor shooting from distance by FCD, Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch only had to make one save on the evening to garner his third shutout of the season.
“We didn’t have any doubts on this team that we could contain them and hold off their attack and shut them out,” said midfielder Brad Ring, who stepped into the holding role in place of suspended Sam Cronin. “It was good for us, but it was better to prove and show everybody else throughout the league that we have a solid, organized defense that can stop any team.”
That organization has been helped by Leitch, whose presence has been felt in his two matches back thanks in part to his excellent fitness level.
“Bruce [Morgan, San Jose’s head athletic trainer] did a hell of a job over the last six weeks,” Leitch said. “I feel like he got me into preseason form. I feel strong as ever now.”
The Quakes needed that kind of strength, given that Dallas came in having been blanked only twice in 22 previous matches. While Ferreira was still a danger flitting in and out of the center of San Jose’s defense, he had very few open targets to try to reach with his passes. Including, obviously, Shea.
“Chris Leitch didn’t give [Shea] much of a sniff tonight,” Quakes captain Jason Hernandez said. “That’s a credit to him fighting his way through injury, being fit and being able to keep up step-for-step with one of the better wingers in the league. It was a great game for Chris.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes