Some might say that the San Jose Earthquakes have arisen out of nowhere to become the finest club in MLS, but according the Quakes, their rise has been a year in the making.
Throughout the season, the Earthquakes climbed up the Western Conference standings thanks in large to their penchant for late goals and clutch strikes from star forward Chris Wondolowski.
With Wondolowski, MLS’ leading goal scorer leading the way with a career-high 25 goals and seven assists, the Earthquakes are the highest scoring team in MLS with 69 goals and 72 assists this season. However, even though Wondolowski is knocking on the door of Roy Lassiter’s MLS single-season goal scoring record, San Jose’ television analyst Kelly Gray attests that San Jose is a team with no stars.
“This is a group of guys that thoroughly enjoy each other’s company. There’s barely any ego on the entire team which is something that is kind of strange in professional sports because of that, everyone tries to pass the attention over to someone else,” said Gray. “Wondo is the perfect example because even though he’s scored a ton of goals this year, in every single interview that he’s done, he credits Alan Gordon or Steven Lenhart or other players on the team…and they do the exact same thing.”
Wondolowski may get the headlines with his torrid goal scoring, but Gordon (13 goals and 7 assists), Lenhart (10 goals and 2 assists) and winger Marvin Chávez (2 goals and 10 assists) have done their part to fuel San Jose’s high-powered offense. Through a mix of the tenacity, composure and speed, San Jose has formed a strong attack through physicality in the center and speed on the flanks.
The Earthquakes’ attacking quartet may get a majority of the attention, but Gray believes that physical Honduran centerback Víctor Bernández has been the biggest key to San Jose’s rise up the standings.
“He’s quite possibly the most important player on the field, and granted he doesn’t speak too much English, but you see the intensity that he has and at the same time, the composure that has, so other players feed off that,” said Grey. “Justin Morrow got the chance to play next to him at the beginning of the season, and I think what Justin picked up from Victor has led to his success this year and it’s not just him, it’s anyone that you put around him is going to learn something and feel more comfortable.”
With a chip placed firmly on their shoulder, this tenacious attitude has been a hallmark of San Jose this season. But even though the Quakes may be one of the toughest teams in the league, San Jose has struggled when taken away from their game plan of playing the game through the flanks.
“The game changes into more of a long-ball game and you don’t use the space as well,” says Gray. “There have only been a handful of games that have gone that way, but I think that teams that generally cut off that service out wide and spaces out wide have done a good job of stymieing the Earthquakes offense, but that being said, we’ve still seen a lot of late game heroics in those games.”
San Jose may have succeeded at living on the edge this season and while many believe that the clock will strike 12 on their incredible ride, Gray believes that the Earthquakes are confident that they can continue a run to the MLS Cup.
“I worry, but I think that the guys on the field, I don’t that it even crosses their mind and that’s part of what adds to their success,” said Gray. “I think that it comes down the Quakes and it doesn’t matter who they’re playing against, as long as they stick to their game plan and know what they need to do, I think they’ll be successful.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com