Programming note: Earthquakes-Real Salt Lake coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California
The San Jose Earthquakes opened 2013 with a shutout loss to Real Salt Lake and ultimately missed the playoffs after seeing a substantial dip in scoring from the previous year.
They've brought in some new faces with hopes of returning to that 2012 form, and the first step in that process comes Saturday night at home against a Salt Lake team that's already off to a promising start.
Among only three clubs yet to open the season, the Earthquakes scored a league-best 72 goals in 2012 and finished with the league's best record. They didn't get halfway there in 2013 with 35, and their season ended on a tiebreaker for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
Star forward Chris Wondolowski's drop from an MLS record-tying 27 goals in 2012 to 11 last season was most noticeable, and coach Mark Watson is insisting on adding a level of creativity to the club's attack.
"We'll work on moving the ball around a little bit, to hopefully slide some attacking players through, other than just, 'Go wide and get the ball in the box,'" Watson told the team's official website.
Two of the new players who will be charged with doing so are midfielder Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi and winger Yannick Djalo. Pierazzi figures to slot into a play-making position in the middle behind Wondolowski.
"He's excited to come to play in the United States and knows a lot about our team already," Watson said after the signing of Pierazzi, who spent his last three seasons in France's Ligue 1. "He has a great character and has been playing in a top league in Europe for a number of years."
The slight but speedy Djalo, who joins San Jose from Portugal club Benfica, figures to attract plenty of attention from opposing defenses. At 27 years old, he and Pierazzi, 28, aren't seen by the Earthquakes as declining European players making the move to MLS with little left.
"They're definitely not past their prime," general manager John Doyle said. "They're right in their prime. That's exciting."
San Jose also added help on the back line with veteran Bundesliga right back Andreas Gorlitz and former New York Red Bulls starter Brandon Barklage.
Real Salt Lake (1-0-0) overcame injuries in its opener to win 1-0 at Los Angeles last Saturday in a dramatic debut for coach Jeff Cassar.
Joao Plata scored in the 80th minute, and goalkeeper Nick Rimando stopped Robbie Keane's stoppage-time penalty kick to make it stand.
"Feels great," Cassar said. "What I'm most excited about is the fight that the team had. We came in at halftime and just said, 'Relax, 0-0, exactly where we want to be,' and the energy level, the effort, in the second half was just fantastic."
Defender Chris Schuler, midfielder Sebastian Velasquez and forward Devon Sandoval all missed the opener, and Schuler is said to be the only one in consideration against San Jose.
Salt Lake won two of three meetings with the Earthquakes last season. The 2-0 season-opening win was its only visit to San Jose and featured two goals from returning top scorer Alvaro Saborio.
In the last meeting, a 2-1 Earthquakes victory Sept. 21, returning San Jose forward Steven Lenhart scored twice.
Striking partner Wondolowski went without a goal against Real Salt Lake last season after netting five in three 2012 matches.