If anyone was overlooking Sam Cronin’s offensive potential because of his position as the San Jose Earthquakes’ holding midfielder, they couldn’t miss his contributions Saturday in the Quakes’ 3-0 road romp against Toronto FC.
Cronin notched an assist on the Quakes’ first goal, delivering a pinpoint cross for Chris Wondolowski to punch home with an open back-post header in the ninth minute.
More subtly, Cronin’s looping pass put Rafael Baca behind a porous TFC defense in the 67th. With Reds goalkeeper Milos Kocic coming off his line to close the angle, Baca cut a pass across the goalmouth, where Wondolowski pounced for his third score of the season and sixth in his last three trips to BMO Field.
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“I think that’s a huge, underrated part of Sam’s game,” Wondolowski said. “He does a great job of covering so much ground and tackling, it kind of goes unnoticed how good his passing is. He put it on a platter for me on the first goal, and he’s got great vision to see Rafa going through and have that chipped ball.”
Throw in some critical tackles as San Jose weathered Toronto’s comeback attempts, and Cronin had arguably the best all-around performance in the Quakes’ most complete match of 2012.
“Sam is playing in that position for a reason. He’s clean on the ball, he’s got a great engine, he feels the game well,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “Sam’s played well in the three games that we’ve had. He played well today, obviously, so I’m very happy for him.”
Cronin’s work helped San Jose improve to 2-1-0 and gave the Quakes a win in their first road match this year -- an important milestone in advance of next weekend’s early bellwether game against Seattle at CenturyLink Field.
“First of all, we got the win, which is much-needed,” Cronin said, referencing the Quakes’ disappointing 1-0 loss to Houston last week. “It’s our first road win of the year, which is big for us. We wanted to set the impression, continue it next week in Seattle and this whole season, [to] be a tough team to play on the road.”
Cronin said he wasn’t specifically targeting Wondolowski -- who closed to within one goal of Seattle’s league leader, David Estrada -- when Marvin Chávez cycled the ball back to him on the left wing after San Jose regained possession of a half-cleared Quakes corner kick. Cronin struck a right-footed, in-swinging cross from the left wing and the unmarked Wondolowski converted easily past the pinned-down Kocic.
“Marvin played a smart little ball back to me,” Cronin said. “I just tried to put the ball in a dangerous spot and Wondo was there for a good finish. I was just trying to make the back four turn around a little bit.”
Cronin doesn’t feel like his offensive prowess gets taken for granted, but it’s easy to write off the attacking abilities of a guy who has one career MLS goal and averages 785 minutes between assists.
“Obviously it’s a stat-driven sport, where if you don’t seem to get any points, it seems like you’re not one of the better players,” Yallop said. “But I don’t look at that at all. I look at the performance, and I look at the way he held his own in the middle of the field.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.