Defense key to Quakes early success

April 3, 2012, 1:20 am
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Four matches into the 2012 season and the San JoseEarthquakes have surrendered only one goal; and that off a penalty kick. They are proving to themselves and the restof the league they are going to be a factor in the quest for the 2012 MLSCup. Each year there is turnover on theroster, but the moves made this off season as a whole are the best managementhas made since the reformation of the team, especially on the defensive side ofthings.Position by position, Frank Yallop has more quality playersto choose from. The Quakes now haveflexibility and options based on their opponents strengths which they have notshown in previous years. With thesupport of an aggressive combination of midfielders, it took most of the nightfor the explosive Seattleside to generate much offensively and the Quakes sent home about 40,000 Sounderfans unhappy.San Josehas turned a massive weakness into one of its strengths. Through a series ofmoves and non-moves, management has put together a beautiful blend of developedyoung talent and veteran experience. Victor Bernardez, the Honduran national team member, hasbeen everything the Quakes said he would be and more. His tenacious attitude, size, strength, andfearlessness on the back line has virtually eliminated the seemingly weeklyheartbreaks and bouts of bad luck that cursed the teams central defense lastseason. He is a closer defensively and is the main reason why the Quakes haveheld on to both of their 1-0 victories.Equally impressive has been the growth of a couple of formermid-fielders on the back line, Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour. Morrow has been an Earthquake for a whilebiding his time on the reserve unit. Theleft footer has the speed to track down any striker in the MLS and hasdeveloped his decision playing in reserve matches over the years to the pointnow where he has the full confidence of his teammates in either a central orleft side defender. He has good ballskills which also helps the Quakes build their attack from the back. Morrowwaited a long time to get a chance to play and has not faltered in any of hischances. He has been truly impressive.Steven Beitashour is in his third season with the Quakes andthe San Josenative has made the right back position his own. He has become a lock down defender on theright side, consistently making good decisions on when to pressure and how tojump the passing lanes, especially on long balls. His speed and ball skills have helped createmany scoring opportunities for the Quakes as well. In 2011, he led the team with 7 assists in 22games. The end-zone angle of his run in the Toronto on March 24th, whichcreated Shea Salinas goal in the 56th minute, perfectly displayedhis speed, sense of timing, elusiveness and touch with the ball. Waiting in the wings for his opportunity to crack the lineup is Ike Opara who has spent a lot of the early season busy with the USNational U23 team. Over the course ofthe long season, the Quakes could present the leagues most athletic back fourif Opara comes in to the middle with Bernardez and Morrow plays left whileBeitashour anchors down the right side.It would be difficult for any club to match that groups ball skills orspeed or athleticism.Finally, there are the two veterans who are extremelyimportant to this equation. RamiroCorrales started the first 4 games as the left back, suffered an injury in the Seattle game. If the injury is not serious, he will continueto be a solid option for coach Yallop.Jason Hernandez took his place after the injury. Hernandez has started 99 matches for theQuakes and played in his 100th match for Frank Yallop when he wentin for Corrales. He is a smart and solidalternative at central defender and should one of the others need to sit forany reason, he will do an admirable job.The Quakes turn around from a truly miserable campaign in2011 is built on a firm defensive foundation as sturdy as Victor Bernardez onthe ball. Too many times last year San Jose gave up lategoals that cost them points in the standings.To a man, most of the team feels like last years squad would havesquandered the 1-0 victories they have this year and they are thrilled with thenew pieces that are preserving their hard work.

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