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Scouting Report: San Jose Earthquakes

Bobby Convey is having a resurgent season, assisting on five goals and helping lead his team into second place in the Western Conference.
Bobby Convey is having a resurgent season, assisting on five goals and helping lead his team into second place in the Western Conference.

At 22 years old, everything seemed to be going Bobby Convey's way. He had just helped lead Reading from the Championship to the Premier League, he was a member of the U.S. Men's National Team and he seemed well on his way to becoming one of the first American stars in Europe.

Shortly after making his World Cup and EPL debuts, though, Convey suffered a knee injury that essentially kept him out for most of the 2006-07 season. He would eventually return to the field the following July, but he never regained his form or his starting spot. By 2009, he had been released and was heading back to MLS, the league which had once made him its youngest ever signee.

Instead of making a triumphant return, Convey managed just one goal and one assist in 25 starts, while trying out several positions for the last-place San Jose Earthquakes.

Rock bottom finally came during this season's opener.

The man once believed to be the future of U.S. soccer, still just 26 years old, was benched at halftime of an eventual 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake.

"Coming out at halftime was the most embarrassing and disappointing thing that has ever happened in my career, and this is my 11th year," Convey told the San Jose Mercury News only days after the benching. "I don't think it was warranted."

Hyperbole aside, Convey appears to have received whatever message Quakes coach Frank Yallop was trying to send.

Since that game, Convey has assisted on five goals and helped the Quakes (13 points in seven games) climb into a second-place tie in the Western Conference as they head into Qwest Field for a match that suddenly looks a lot more interesting than it did even a few weeks ago. The Quakes, in fact, have only lost once since their opening match debacle.

"He's back on the flank where he kind of made a name for himself," Sounders right back James Riley said of Convey. "He's a quality, quality player, we're definitely going to want to keep a close mark on him. He has great services with his left foot. It kind of floats around, so it's kind of dynamic that way. He puts in a great ball, great service and he's pretty active, so we need to be aware of that."

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Convey's corner kick prowess has helped the Quakes score three goals that way, and his crosses have helped contribute to three other goals, including one that led to a successful penalty kick.  

The Quakes' improvement merely starts with Convey, though.

A year after outscoring only four teams with a total of 36 goals and getting goals from just eight players -- the Sounders, by comparison, scored only two more goals but spread it out over 11 players -- the Quakes are fourth in goals per game (1.57) and have received goals from six different players (Convey isn't even one of them).

"They're doing very well," said Riley, who played for San Jose two seasons ago. "Me knowing guys and having been down there, I know they've been through a lot. This year it seems like they're getting all the right bounces. They've been fortunate that way.

"I'm happy for them, but I still want to get those three points on Saturday."

Leading the scoring is seventh-year MLS veteran Chis Wondolowski, whose four scores already equal his total during the previous six years in the league.

 

The other main figure in the attack is Wondolowski's forward partner Ryan Johnson. Coming off a breakout season in which he scored 11 goals and had two assists for a PP90 of .96, the 6-foot-1 Jamaican National Team player has just one goal, but four assists. The lack of goals for Johnson, it's worth noting, has not come from a lack of activity. His 20 shots are fifth in all of MLS and his 12 shots on goal are the third highest total. Last week, for instance, Johnson got several good looks, but was unable to put away a couple headers.

 

The duo form a pretty classic speed-and-size forward combination with Johnson using his strength to create space and Wondolowski often sneaking past defenders. 

 

"(Johnson) causes a lot of havoc up front," Riley said. "He was kind of making his own goals, but now they have quality players around him." 

Making the recent run of success even more impressive is the fact that it's come largely without the services of 2010 third overall draft pick Ike Opara, who was allowed to miss the three most recent games in order to finish up his degree at Wake Forest.

Prior to leaving the team, Opara had shown a dominating streak as the right center back, even scoring a pair of headers in the Quakes' first two wins of the season.

In Opara's absence, the Quakes have shown impressive depth along the back line. The team that was last in MLS in goals against average (1.67) last year is suddenly among the top defenses in the league, registering a 1.00 GAA (fourth best).

Three different players have started in Opara's place, and two of them -- Bobby Burling and Steve Beitashour -- have managed to chip in with goals. 

Ramiro Corrales, not so long ago considered by some to be washed up at 33 years old, is wearing the captain's armband and directing the defense. He also has a pair of assists, giving Quakes defenders four goals and two assists, easily the most among MLS defensive units. With both Convey and Corrales on the left side, the Quakes tend to launch a lot of their attacks from there.

Joe Cannon has been solid in his second season as fulltime starter for the Quakes. He was rarely tested in last week's game against New England, but he made a couple of nice saves and got an assist from the woodwork to register his fourth clean sheet of the season.

The Sounders should provide a good measuring stick. As improved as San Jose has already proven to be this year, the Quakes' only road win was over Chicago (2-3-3). Coming off a season in which they only won once away from Buck Shaw Stadium, Los Temblores would go a long way toward making believers of their skeptics with a win at Qwest Field.

Coming off a big win of their own, the Sounders (12 points in nine games) should expect to have their hands full as the two teams renew their battle for the Heritage Cup.