Earthquakes look to perfect the winning formula

September 17, 2011, 3:07 am
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SAN JOSE Despite a series of injuries and suspensions, the Earthquakes finally found the winning formula last Saturday, beating the visiting Chicago Fire 2-0 to snap a franchise-record 13 game winless streak. While the team presses on, beset by absences and its playoff hopes dangling by a thread, the win provided a modicum of hope and an indication of what fans might see as the Earthquakes attempt to claw their way into a playoff berth. With Justin Morrow and Bobby Convey missing Saturdays win through injury and suspension, respectively, Sam Cronin and Simon Dawkins came in to cover, while Khari Stephenson continued to play in a forward role. Even with players returning to fitness, though, the replacements play against Chicago could be one indication that they are likely to continue seeing playing time. Dawkins was active on the left wing, passing accurately (40 out of 46 passes completed, or 87 accuracy) and demonstrating his ability to both beat a man and play an intelligent pass. Stephenson, playing forward alongside Chris Wondolowksi, was active outside the penalty area, and contributed on the buildup to Ramiro Corrales goal against Chicago. Both players were playing out of their natural positions, as they are both nominally central midfielders. Head coach frank Yallop praised the versatility of his players, highlighting that quality as one that has helped lift the team in recent weeks. I think any good player can play in any position. I wouldnt put them in a position if I didnt feel as a coach they could handle both spots, Yallop said. So I decided to put them both in those spots and its worked out great, I think both of them have played very well. Also benefiting from the shift in play is Wondolowski himself, who has now gathered two goals and an assist in his last two games to catapult himself right back into the race for the MLS Golden Boot. Wondolowski was the recipient of a cross from Rafael Baca, also recent addition to the lineup, for his first goal and indicated he was happy with the service he has been given. I think its been alright, I think the thing is we have a really deep team, Wondolowski said. I thought Kharis been playing really well up there. I think whoever steps in, Rafa Baca or Sam Cronin have been playing well up there, so its nice and its a good luxury to have and I think we need to keep building on that. Wondolowski also highlighted the role of understanding and communication among the forward line. He further highlighted that part of the teams deeper understanding simply came from playing together the length of the season. Its just one of those things, kind of all coming together, he explained. Its been seven months since weve been since preseason, so we know each other really well now and know the ins and outs, and we practice hard and work together on that front, so we feel that we can understand each other and go from there. Looking ahead to Saturdays trip to Houston, Bobby Convey, a natural left winger, will be available after serving a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation. However, with Dawkins playing a positive role on the win over Chicago and syncing well with the rest of the team, Yallop could be set to start the Englishman once more. I think he Dawkins has the ability to dribble guys and get shots off and crosses off, so thats a different look, said Yallop, comparing Dawkins traits to Conveys. Bobbys a good possession player, whips early crosses, does come infield a little bit. Theyre both good players, Simon at the moment is doing well. There will, however, be one forced change to the lineup as Nana Attakora will replace Jason Hernandez (quadriceps strain) in the center of defense. However, Yallop indicated he has full faith in the 22-year-old Ontario-born center back. He looks better in training, he looks more assured, so hopefully he can now put that into practice and play a good game, Yallop said of his countryman. While Houston will certainly test the Earthquakes, the teams ability to adapt to continuous absences and to remain in sync in spite of those absences will be the key to any remaining playoff hopes.For more Earthquakes, MLS and world soccer musings, you can follow Nick Rosano on Twitter: @nicholasrosano