Five-Star Earthquakes Topple Disjointed D.C.

Written by Ian Thomson

Dwayne De Rosario’s offensive heroics couldn’t overcome D.C. United’s defensive limitations during last season’s play-off push. Robbie Russell’s arrival from Real Salt Lake has bolstered the capital side’s back line, but one recent injury has exposed United’s lack of defensive depth.

Head Coach Ben Olsen has made seven positional changes to D.C.’s back line in 135 minutes of play since Emiliano Dudar pulled a hamstring shortly before half-time in last week’s 3-2 win over Houston Dynamo. San Jose Earthquakes took full advantage of that constant shuffling and defensive uncertainty to demolish United 5-3 at Buck Shaw Stadium on Wednesday.

The Earthquakes have quietly put together a roster steeped in Real Salt Lake’s mantra – the team is the star. Injuries to defender Victor Bernardez and midfielder Shea Salinas haven’t derailed San Jose, and Head Coach Frank Yallop has developed a confident, possession-focused style of play among players who also know when to raise the tempo.

Approach

Steven Lenhart returned to the Earthquakes' starting line-up after scoring twice as a substitute at Philadelphia Union

Yallop made three personnel changes from San Jose’s 2-1 win at Philadelphia Union on April 28. Steven Lenhart reclaimed his forward role after scoring twice as a second-half substitute in Pennsylvania. Khari Stephenson moved back to replace Sam Cronin in central midfield.

Marvin Chavez provided the assists for Lenhart’s goals against Philadelphia. He was rewarded with a starting slot while Rafael Baca dropped to the bench. Captain Ramiro Corrales returned at left-back following a calf strain to replace Ike Opara.

D.C.’s line-up contained one personnel change from the win over Houston with Brazilian midfielder Marcelo Saragosa replacing the injured Dudar. Brandon McDonald moved to the left of the central-defensive pairing for the second half against the Dynamo with Russell sliding to the right side. Perry Kitchen dropped from central midfield to the right-back role that he occupied during much of his rookie season last year.

Perry Kitchen started off as D.C. United's central-defensive replacement for Emiliano Dudar

Olsen again tinkered with his defense for the trip west. Russell returned to right-back and Kitchen moved to the center alongside McDonald.

Lack Of Midfield Cover Adds To D.C.’s Woes

Rookie Nick DeLeon has received praise in the season’s opening two months for his offensive qualities. The 21-year-old Arizonan scored on his professional debut at Los Angeles Galaxy on March 18 and netted a spectacular volley against F.C. Dallas 12 days later. DeLeon forms part of a dangerous attacking quartet with De Rosario, Maicon Santos and Chris Pontius. The defensive side of DeLeon’s game still requires a lot of work, as San Jose’s Chavez exploited time and again.

The Honduran winger’s first foray down the right flank occurred on 14 minutes when he received the ball with his back to D.C.’s goal midway inside his own half. The 28-year-old turned and pushed the ball past Daniel Woolard before accelerating away from his opponent and shrugging off the covering challenge from Saragosa. Chavez drove the ball across the 6-yard box, forcing United goalkeeper Joe Willis to make a smart save.

D.C. were ahead by then through De Rosario’s goal on eight minutes. The Canadian international curled a loose ball into Jon Busch’s top corner from 25 yards after Danny Cruz charged forward from the center circle. San Jose quickly turned the tide and equalized on 19 minutes after a lengthy spell of possession.

Corrales changed the pace of the attack with a long ball that found Tressor Moreno streaking clear as D.C.’s midfield and defense neglected to track his run. The Colombian’s shot was blocked by Woolard’s recovering tackle. Lenhart cracked the rebound beyond Willis from 20 yards.

A couple of lapses at throw-ins saw D.C. fall 3-1 behind before the interval. Woolard opted to throw the ball inside to De Rosario’s feet near the edge of his own penalty area on 21 minutes when a clearing hurl down the touchline would have been safer. Stephenson swarmed over D.C.’s captain, forcing a turnover as Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski broke into the box against flat-footed defenders.

Stephenson passed across the box to Moreno who kept the ball moving first-time to Simon Dawkins as Kitchen charged out to block. The on-loan Tottenham Hotspur midfielder stabbed the ball to the unmarked Wondolowski to finish from 12 yards.

Kitchen (circled) leaves Wondolowski to charge down Moreno's shooting chance. The midfielder found Dawkins (out of shot on the left) who then teed up Wondolowski for San Jose's go-ahead goal.

D.C. were punished again on the half-hour after Cruz carelessly conceded a corner while trying to cushion Russell’s throw-in back to his teammate. Chavez served an inswinger into the same area that had seen Lenhart earlier head against the crossbar while San Jose trailed. Kitchen and McDonald challenged the former Columbus Crew man on this occasion, diverting the ball into the path of Justin Morrow. The defender volleyed home through a crowded box to notch his first ever MLS goal.

San Jose were buzzing. DeLeon’s tendency to tuck inside defensively saw the Earthquakes frequently switch the ball right to Chavez who found himself in one-vs-one situations against an exposed Woolard. Dawkins too was getting involved down the left and both wide men were given plenty of crossing options to aim for. Lenhart and Wondolowski scoured the penalty area while the opposing winger attacked the back post and Moreno lurked at the edge of the box.

DeLeon (circled in white) tucked into the center defensively, giving San Jose's Beitashour an easy pass to spring Chavez (circled in navy) down the wing against Woolard

More Shuffling From Olsen As Full-Backs Advance

Kitchen’s struggles in central defense were exemplified on 32 minutes when he completely misjudged a long San Jose clearance, allowing the ball to bounce behind him to Lenhart. The 20-year-old former Akron Zip was given a reprieve at half-time when Olsen moved him back into midfield in place of the overwhelmed Saragosa. Russell slotted back across to the center and winger Andy Najar filled in at right-back. Najar and Woolard began pressing forward and the pair combined to narrow D.C.’s deficit on 64 minutes.

De Rosario carved open San Jose’s defense with a diagonal ball in behind Corrales for Najar to chase. The Honduran teenager had work to do. He dug out an exceptional deep cross on the run that found Woolard diving to head firmly into Busch’s bottom corner.

D.C.’s defensive woes soon resurfaced though as San Jose extended their lead to a three-goal margin. A simple ball forward from Jason Hernandez sent Lenhart though on Willis’ goal on 65 minutes. The 23-year-old goalkeeper stood tall to save the forward’s intended chip. Willis was left helpless four minutes later when Wondolowski sneaked into space behind Russell to head Steven Beitashour’s cross inside the near post from 10 yards. It was Wondolowski’s 10th goal in nine games, and it nudged him ahead of New York Red Bulls’ captain Thierry Henry at the top of the MLS scoring chart.

Lenhart grabbed his second of the night and San Jose’s fifth on 74 minutes, chesting the ball into an empty net after Chavez had cut inside Woolard to thump a left-foot shot off Willis’ crossbar. Again, D.C.’s beleaguered left-back had been left one-vs-one with the rampant Honduran as DeLeon failed to provide double-cover. The rookie’s disappointing display continued when he fired a free kick harmlessly over Busch’s goal from a near-impossible shooting angle close to the corner flag.

De Rosario didn’t give up the fight for the visitors. The former Earthquakes playmaker created arguably the goal of the night on 88 minutes with an enticing pass curled behind San Jose’s defense and away from Busch. Substitute Hamdi Salihi reached the ball first and cutely clipped it over the sprawling goalkeeper.

Conclusion

The lively Chavez inspired San Jose to their sixth win in seven games with his non-stop running and desire to get behind D.C.’s defense. Yallop’s substitutions, replacing Moreno and Dawkins with Baca and Cronin midway through the second half, demonstrates the depth that his coaching staff have built.

D.C. have been on a good run lately and this was their first defeat in eight games. Olsen’s team looks sound offensively and scored arguably the three best goals of the game. The team has looked particularly vulnerable without possession since Dudar’s injury, conceding seven goals in a game and a half. Those problems start further up the field. DeLeon and De Rosario’s positioning on the left side exposed Woolard far too often.