In their first act after qualifying for the MLS postseason, the San Jose Earthquakes took a mulligan Saturday night.
With a home playoff date looming on Oct. 30, the Quakes wanted to put their recent history of slow starts at Buck Shaw Stadium – including a 3-0 pasting by Chicago in their last appearance – behind them.
Instead, San Jose sleepwalked through the first 75 minutes against a going-nowhere Houston team, and by the time the Quakes regained the urgency that put them in the postseason in the first place, it was too late to prevent a 1-0 loss to the Dynamo.
“It was kind of like, we did all our work last week to get into the playoffs, and now it was kind of a bit of a flat performance for us,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “We’re very good away from home, but our home performances have not been great. So we’ve got to try to address that before our first (playoff) game.”
San Jose’s last chance to do that will come Wednesday, in a game against Chivas USA that suddenly takes on new meaning, even if the Quakes’ first-round ticket is assured. The Quakes will look to snap their first home losing streak of the year at a most critical time.
“It’s everything, to be honest,” Quakes captain Jason Hernandez said of Wednesday’s contest. “It’s everything to us. We’re going to have a home game in the playoffs, and we’re going to need to perform well. For whatever reason, our last two home games, we can’t get a result, we can’t score a goal.”
Hernandez thought that the Quakes’ sluggishness against Houston was “100 percent” attributable to a mental hangover in the wake of San Jose’s 2-0 victory against D.C. United last weekend. That result put San Jose through to the playoffs for the first time since being reestablished in 2008 and removed some of the pressure that had been driving the team for weeks.
“We were all complacent, every one of us,” Hernandez said. “And we were naïve in thinking we were going to come here and, just because we’ve had some good results in our last few games, get a win.”
The inability to posses and craft many chances offensively was made all the more disappointing because San Jose was facing a 22-year-old goalkeeper, Tyler Deric, who had never before played in an MLS match. The Quakes put just one shot on goal before the 75th minute, allowing Deric to settle in comfortably and post the shutout.
After that, Arturo Alvarez had a couple of blasts that Deric held, Bobby Convey glanced a 90th-minute drive from 16 yards off the post and Wondolowski nearly looped a 30-yard volley on net with the game’s final touch.
“That’s really disappointing,” Wondolowski said of the early struggles. “At times we broke out like we wanted, according to plan, but that final pass was eluding us all day. It’s one of those things where we’ve got to take a step back and not let it frustrate us. It kept frustrating us, frustrating us, and we kept pushing and pushing, and that’s not always necessarily the answer.”
The Quakes finally snapped out of their doldrums after Yallop brought on Alvarez and Cornell Glen. San Jose finished up with Glen and Wondolowski up top, Ryan Johnson and Alvarez on the wings and Geovanni and Convey as a central midfield pairing.
“It was just about being positive,” Yallop said. “We weren’t for 80 minutes, and then we decided to get desperate, and then all of the sudden we put them on their heels and they were reeling a little bit.”
With 22 points on the road and 21 at home, San Jose is one of only two teams in the MLS this season to have inverted the usual formula of success. League-leading Los Angeles, with 30 of 56 points on the road, is the other.
Yet Wondolowski feels there’s still time for the Quakes to recapture their Buck Shaw form.
“If you give us the choice, we’ll still play at home every day,” Wondolowski said. “I think that we can turn it around. We can’t just say it, though. We have to act on it, and do it by example.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes