Rosano: Despite unbeaten streak, Quakes can improve


Rosano: Despite unbeaten streak, Quakes can improve


Nick Rosano

SAN JOSE -- The San JoseEarthquakes might be on their best run of results since 2008, but ask them, andtheyll say they can play even better. In each of his past three postgame pressconferences after home wins, head coach Frank Yallop has expressed his desirefor even better play, especially in terms of moving the ball around the field.Weve actually done that for the past three home games thatweve won, not played particularly well in the first half, Yallop said afterlast Saturdays 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo. Despite winning their last three home games and tying two onthe road, the Earthquakes have managed to score only one goal in the firsthalf, Chris Wondolowskis opener in a 1-1 draw with Vancouver on May 11. When the Earthquakestake to the field on the road at D.C. United on Saturday evening, it will havebeen exactly a month since the teams last first-half goal. However, the Earthquakes are keenly aware of this fact, andthis week they have looked to continue improving their passing game to augmentthe positive signs the team has shown in the past few weeks. We worked on it this week, Yallop said. I didnt think weplayed particularly well on Saturday. It wasnt a great performance of playingsoccer, but what we did show is fight, scrap, and good finishes. We just talked about moving it quicker and getting it offour feet, goalkeeper Jon Busch said. One and two touch, not standing on theball and not letting it die, just keep it moving, and I think weve done wellwith that. Some of the struggle to move the ball can be attributed tothe cautious nature of the teams visiting Buck Shaw, who like to keep menbehind the ball, coupled with the Earthquakes preference to play a tight,defensively sound first half. Some teams come in here, not necessarily trying to go afterus, but being satisfied with a point and getting a tie, defender JasonHernandez said after the win over Houston. Weve talked about being really tight in the first half ofevery game or the first 20 minutes, not give them a goal, Yallop added. Ithink weve really settled into that and maybe not played better from that, butits worked. While some teams struggle to create chances because they seeso little of the ball, winning possession has not necessarily been the issuefor the Earthquakes. The midfield duo of Sam Cronin and Brad Ring has done verywell at shutting down opponents offenses and winning the ball, and are nowlooking to continue improving the offensive side of their game. Were always trying to work on ball movement, Cronin said.Defensively, the pressure mentality is the basis for our game, but we thinkwere capable of being a team that moves the ball and knocks the ball aroundwell, makes the other team work. Fans caught a glimpse of this quick movement in the dyingminutes of Saturdays win, when Cronin played a good give and go with SimonDawkins, who collected Cronins pass to score on a breakaway. With many of theteams goals coming from crosses out wide, Cronins defense-splitting verticalball was a sign that the team, even though it has found a successful formula,is continuing to look for new ways to break down opponents. Im always working on all aspects of my game and the moretimes I see that final pass and slot people through thats what I need to bedoing, Cronin said. With Cronin and Ring starting to form a good understandingin the center of the park and looking to sharpen their offensive talents,better passing soccer wont be far off for the Earthquakes. Each opponent willpresent different tests, but now, the Earthquakes could start looking to forcetheir opponent to adapt to their style, a hallmark of a strong team andpossible sign of good things to come.For more Earthquakes, MLS and soccer musings, youcan follow Nick Rosano on Twitter: @nicholasrosano

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Quakes' draw with Sporting KC


Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Quakes' draw with Sporting KC

SAN JOSE -- People say that the when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. 

So if you’re someone who believes in that, Saturday’s 0-0 draw is a good thing for the San Jose Earthquakes. After dropping two straight MLS matches, the Quakes needed to stop the bleeding and were faced with doing so against the Western Conference’s top team, Sporting Kansas City — no small task. 

Here are five things you need to know about a scoreless, albeit positive, affair Saturday afternoon at Avaya Stadium. 

— Quakes head coach Dominic Kinnear’s troubles began even before San Jose took to the pitch on Saturday. We knew of three key cogs — Florian Jungwirth, Marco Urena, Darwin Ceren — already out with injury or suspension. But things got worse when Fatai Alashe and Simon Dawkins became unavailable. The result: Kinnear’s lineup card listed just 16 players — three of which have spent the vast majority of their season playing for San Jose’s United Soccer League affiliate, Reno 1868. Of those three, one saw playing time — Jackson Yueill, who made his MLS debut.

— The draw is positive for two reasons. One, San Jose was without several key players and it would have been very easy to use that as an excuse for a less than stellar effort. And two, the draws snaps a two-game MLS slide. The race for a playoff spot in the Western Conference is congested. San Jose may be in seventh place, but the draw keeps them just eight points behind first place Sporting KC. 

— The first half unfolded as expected — the shorthanded Quakes had no choice but to play a defensive game and hope Sporting KC made a mistake on a counterattack. That didn’t happen. In fact, three times, SKC had an open net and couldn’t capitalize. San Jose, on the other hand, did not record a single shot on Tim Melia’s goal. Things opened up a little more in the second half for the Quakes. But as its been the case for some time now, the Quakes simply could not break through. KC's Graham Zusi had arguably the match's best chance with mere seconds left to play. The clean sheet for Kansas City means the visitors have now allowed just eight road goals in nine matches all season long. 

— Saturday’s match against Sporting KC was the second in a very busy stretch for the Quakes. Last Wednesday, the Quakes took down the San Francisco Deltas (NASL) 2-0 in U.S. Open Cup play. However, the win means another game on the schedule the following Wednesday — against the reigning MLS champion Seattle Sounders. 

In all, by the time San Jose faces Los Angeles in Stanford Stadium for the Cali Clasico, the Quakes will have played five matches in 18 days before packing up for a cross country trip to Atlanta for another game on Independence Day. 

Tired legs, indeed. 

— A couple of logistic particulars: Saturday’s reported attendance was 18,000 — another sell-out for Avaya Stadium where the Quakes remain very stout. As a side note, the Quakes announced earlier in the week they have sold over 30,000 tickets for the aforementioned Cali Clasico at Stanford Stadium. 

Chris Wondolowski and Anibal Godoy went into the book with yellow cards on Saturday. 

Next up, the Quakes will take on Real Salt Lake next Saturday at Avaya Stadium with kick scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

US battle for hard-earned point at Azteca vs Mexico in WC qualifier


US battle for hard-earned point at Azteca vs Mexico in WC qualifier

MEXICO CITY — Michael Bradley scored a stunning early goal from about 40 yards and the U.S. hung on for a 1-1 tie against Mexico in a World Cup qualifier on Sunday night, gaining only its third point at Azteca Stadium as coach Bruce Arena changed seven starters and used a five-man defense to overcome the thin air and short recovery time.

Bradley put the U.S. ahead in the sixth minute when he deflected a poor backpass by Mexican star Javier Hernandez and created his own breakaway.

Carlos Vela tied the score in the 23rd minute with a 23-yard shot that beat goalkeeper Brad Guzan to the near post, and Hector Herrera nearly put El Tri ahead in the 71st with a 30-yard free kick that rebounded off the crossbar.

With its second draw in three road qualifiers, the U.S. continued to recover from its awful 0-2 start last fall and prompted chants of "U-S-A!" from the American Outlaws section in the upper deck.

"It's a shame to give away the goal that we did," Bradley said. "Any time you can get a point here it's great. ... Now we can move ourselves forward."

Mexico leads the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region with 14 points, followed by Costa Rica (eight), the U.S. (seven), Panama (six), Honduras (four) and Trinidad and Tobago three. The top three advance to next year's World Cup in Russia, and the fourth-place team faces Asia's No. 5 nation in a playoff.

Panama hosts Honduras on Tuesday, when Costa Rica is home against T&T.

Mexico was trying to sweep the Americans in a qualifying cycle for the first time 1972. The U.S. was 0-19-1 in Mexico City — getting outscored 81-14 — before a 1-0 exhibition win in 2012. The U.S. held Mexico to 0-0 in qualifiers at Azteca in 1997 and 2013,

With Estadio Azteca at 7,820 feet above sea level and just two off days between games, Arena paid close attention to recovery time and tested his roster's depth.

Bradley, one of just four holdovers in the U.S. starting lineup from Thursday night's 2-0 home win over Trinidad, stunned the boisterous crowd of about 81,000. Hector Moreno passed to Hernandez, who passed back for Herrera in the center circle.

Reading the play, Bradley quickly stepped up and knocked the ball toward Mexico's goal. Bradley sprinted to catch up with the ball, and when he reached it lofted a right-footed shot from about 40 yards over goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa's outstretched left arm and under the crossbar. An exuberant Bradley ran to the endline and raised the badge on his jersey to the several thousand red-white-and-blue-clad fans.

He became just the fifth American to score at Azteca, joining Michael Orozco (2012), Charlie Davies (2009), Eddie Lewis (2005), Ricky Davis (1980), Willy Roy (1972).

Bobby Wood failed in to knock in an open shot from close range that could have made it 2-0, and Vela scored on a counterattack. Ochoa made a long outlet throw to Hernandez, who passed to Vela on the right flank. He dribbled around DaMarcus Beasley and across the top of the penalty area, and from the arc beat Guzan.

Fans booed and whistled "The Star-Spangled Banner," as usual when the Americans play in Mexico, and there was an occasional T-shirt disparaging U.S. President Donald Trump.

A downpour began during second-half injury time.

Guzan took over in goal from Tim Howard, and Beasley, Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez joined the back line in a 5-4-1 formation. Kellyn Acosta and Paul Arriola were in midfield and Wood at forward. In addition to Bradley, 18-year-old midfielder Christian Pulisic remained in the lineup along with right back DeAndre Yedlin and center back Geoff Cameron.

Beasley at 35 became the first American to appear in qualifiers of five World Cup cycles. He had not started for the U.S. since the October 2015 loss to Mexico in a playoff for a Confederations Cup berth..

Mexico was trying to sweep the Americans in a qualifying cycle for the first time 1972.

Bradley is encouraged by the Americans' progress under Arena.

"Look, we were pretty honest with ourselves and we had let a lot of little things drop," he said.