So the Quakes did it again Saturday. They beat the visiting Seattle Sounders in the 93rd minute, just 60 seconds or so after Fredy Montero pulled a goonie and brought his team level in the 92nd minute. But no one out-goonies the original goonie, Steven Lenhart, who had the final say for his side. Final score 2-1.
This story line, while always exciting, is no longer surprising for fans of the San Jose Earthquakes–or anyone else for that matter! I think the question is, how long can they keep it up? San Jose is on the fast track to win the Supporters Shield, with a good 4 points separating them and their closest followers in the standings, Sporting Kansas City. They are a full 5 points ahead of sometime Western Conference leaders Real Salt Lake. But can this pace and unorthodox style be maintained?
To be sure, the coaching staff would be a heck of a lot more comfortable if their team would take the lead and maintain it throughout a game, instead of always having to rely on last minute heroics. We fans, on the other hand, can start to get nervous if our team goes up too early in a game. We have fully embraced the comeback nature of the Quakes.
When you talk to the players, you find that it is all a matter of character and work ethic. They believe in each other and fight for each other, whether they go up in the 10th minute or find themselves down by 2 in the 60th. Their biggest hallmark is that they never give up (“Goonies never say die!”). They are also extremely grounded and know that success does not come easily. Just check out this article about their star player, Wondo.
The rest of the American soccer world is taking notice of these blue collar guys. Four Quakes were named to the MLS All Star squad. Three have received call-ups from Jurgen Klinsmann for Wednesday’s friendly against Mexico. Clearly, even if they sometimes give us heart attacks, they are doing something right.
Which brings me back to my original question: is this unconventional come-from-behind style sustainable? So far, the answer seems to be yes. The Earthquakes have avoided any serious mid-season slump and remain unbeaten at Buck Shaw Stadium. True, Wondo is in a bit of a scoring slump (which for him means 4 games without a goal). However, with 17 goals under his belt already, I don’t think any of us are seriously worried about him. And he himself always says, he can score zero goals and he will be happy if he can hoist the MLS Cup at the end of the season. Besides, unlike last season, San Jose is chock full of players who can and do score. Fellow forwards Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart have 9 and 8 goals, respectively. Midfielders Rafael Baca, Marvin Chavez, Sam Cronin, Simon Dawkins, Shea Salinas, and Khari Stephenson have all gotten on the score sheet. Even defenders Victor Bernardez and Justin Morrow have scored! If Wondo wins the Golden Boot and becomes the first player to be top scorer 3 years in a row, we will be ecstatic. Fortunately, though, the responsibility for scoring goals is not entirely on his shoulders this time around.
There is no doubt that the San Jose Earthquakes do not play the prettiest soccer. The Quakes style is tough, gritty, and most importantly, effective. While their passing and possession has improved drastically from last season, perhaps their biggest strength is their ability to wear opponents down physically and mentally throughout the full 90 minutes. Anyone who has seen Lenhart torment defenders knows exactly what I am talking about!
Neither do the Quakes have the biggest names in the league. Look at the roster, and you will not see any David Beckhams or Thierry Henrys. You will see Chris Wondolowski, who worked his way up playing in the reserves of Houston and San Jose until he finally broke into the first team. You will see players like Alan Gordon and Shea Salinas who have been shuttled about between various MLS clubs throughout their careers. You will see the odd Honduran couple of Victor Bernardez and Marvin Chavez.
Quite honestly, I would not trade one of my Hondurans for 100 Thierry Henrys. We have a good thing going in San Jose, and even if the LA Galaxy continue to be the league darlings, we will continue to enjoy our rediscovered dominance, pretty or no.
Goonies. Cardiac Quakes. Comeback kids. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you have to admire their steely resolve and refusal to quit.