Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Shrader's Spin: Quakes Have a Bounce to Their Step

Food tastes a little better….the air feels a little cleaner….there’s a little more giddy-up in your step….such is the case when your team has 16 points from eight games, including five wins. It’s pretty tough to lose – indeed, impossible – when you’re riding a streak of four consecutive shutouts.

We’re talking about the team that many in Major League Soccer consider to be the surprise team of the 2010 season, the San Jose Earthquakes.

“Yeah, some are probably surprised,” said defender Chris Leitch. “But not

Leitch said there is not a lot that separates the best teams
and the bottom teams.

“We changed a couple of small components, maybe some attitude things.”

And, Leitch said, they have the benefit of the same coaching staff for three years: “Guys are familiar with each other and that shows.”

A team that allowed 50 goals a year ago, blowing a handful of leads late, has allowed only seven goals in eight games (three in each of their two losses.) They have been especially difficult late in games, allowing only an 87th-minute goal during desperation time at Chivas USA, which was the last time a ball got past goalkeeper Joe Cannon – 363 minutes ago.

“It’s something we stress in training, defensive shape,” said central back Bobby Burling, who has played four games this season, all shutouts. “It's one-through-11, the forwards, then the midfielders pushing and us cleaning up the back.”

“A lot of blocked shots, a lot of blocked passes, a lot of blocked crosses,” said Cannon, who now has 73 career shutouts, second best in league history. “That’s a testament to the guys on this team.”

So maybe the Quakes aren’t surprised by their defensive successes. Maybe they’re not surprised by their five wins and second place standing in the West. But c’mon, Chris Wondolowski leading the team with five goals? And he didn’t even play in the first two games of the season.

“Hey, we have a great team and I’ve been the beneficiary of the chances,” Wondolowski said. “None have been individual, unbelievable things. It’s all been team build-up, great passes.” And for Wondo, it’s about finishing. And many on this team believe he’s their best finisher.

“We have confidence and belief in our team,” he said, after their 1-0 win at Seattle. “Belief that we can beat any team, that we can go out and get three points on the road. Not just ties on the road, but wins.”

Now, it’s two at home (Toronto and Columbus), one on the road (Dallas) over an eight-day span, then a three-week World Cup break.

“We want to take this momentum back to Buck Shaw Stadium,” Burling said. “We’re trying to take that back to the home fans.”

Back to Buck Shaw, where the food tastes a bit better and the air is a little fresher. And many of the fans probably aren’t surprised. These fans know what a contender looks like.

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