The San Jose Earthquakes have been one of the dominant defensive teams in Major League Soccer this season, allowing 37 goals in 32 games (1.16 GAA), the third lowest goals against average in the league.
However, what most MLS fans around the country and beyond may not realize is how much adversity the Quakes backline has endured this season.
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Jordan Stewart, the team’s projected starter at left back entering the season after starting 29 matches a season prior, has a wealth of experience from England. After sitting out the first eight matches of the 2015 season to a knee injury, Stewart reclaimed his position in the Quakes lineup, starting 13 of the team’s next 15 matches. Firmly locked in team’s plans going forward, Stewart would suffer an Achilles injury on Aug. 14, costing him the remainder of the season.
Shaun Francis has been a savior of sorts for San Jose. A six-year MLS veteran, Francis has stepped into the Earthquakes lineup as Stewart’s replacement and done an admirable job. He has already set career highs in games played (21) and minutes played (1,474), and has tied his career high in starts (16) with two games still remaining.
The Quakes center backs, Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez, represent one of the premier defensive duos in the league. Both players are big, physical presences that have represented their respective countries at various FIFA World Cups. Fortunately for San Jose, the two center backs have remained a force alongside one another for much of the season. However, down the stretch of a playoff push, the Quakes have had a rough go of things getting them to start in the same match. Bernardez sustained a hamstring injury early against Philadelphia on Sept. 5 and would go on to miss the next three matches. Goodson remained healthy during that time, and was a commanding presence for the Quakes in his absence, but was forced to sit out Bernardez’s return to action on Sept. 27 vs. Real Salt Lake due to yellow card accumulation. Now, after one game together again, Bernardez will be forced from the lineup due to his own yellow card accumulation.
Rookie midfielder Fatai Alashe has been crucial for the Quakes backline of late. A center back as a senior in college at Michigan State University, Alashe has become a Rookie of the Year candidate as a central midfielder. With Bernardez and Goodson missing various matches over the course of the last month, Alashe has rotated backwards and stepped up. Since mid-September, the Quakes have allowed one or fewer goals in three of Alashe’s four starts at center back. He has also scored a goal in that timespan.
Midfielders Cordell Cato and JJ Koval have also stepped up when called on. Cato, arguably the club’s most versatile player, has made starts at left mid, left back, right mid and right back. He has made a total of eight starts on defense this season. Koval is a oft-used substitute that provides late-game size (6’1) and instincts along the backline.
Marvell Wynne might be the most unheralded of San Jose’s defensemen. A 10-year MLS veteran with time spent on four clubs, Wynne has been the steadiest selection on the team’s backline since the start of the season. His 31 appearances and 30 starts, which are both career highs, each rank first among all defenders on the club. In fact, he has played the most minutes (2,582) of any Earthquakes outfield player this season.
San Jose has also gotten three starts from Paulo Renato and one start from Ty Harden, who was later traded to the Chicago Fire for Quincy Amarikwa, in 2015.
Quakes keeper David Bingham is the lone player on the squad to play every minute of the season thus far. Among all keepers in MLS, Bingham ranks tied for second in shutouts (11) and fourth in saves (101). He is just one shutout shy of the club record set back in 2005.
San Jose’s defense has seemed to thrive when adversity hits hardest. It will surely be something to watch as the regular season comes to a close.