Punchless Earthquakes blanked by Houston

The Houston Dynamo bested the San Jose Earthquakes at sold-out Avaya Stadium Friday evening behind goals from Ricardo Clark and Will Bruin in a thorough 2-0 victory.

Clark’s third goal of the season came easily for Houston (6-7-6), but not as easily as their second, which was gifted by an atrocious attempted back-pass by Sanna Nyassi. The result was the Quakes’ (7-7-4) third scoreless effort at Avaya Stadium this season, giving the 18,000 in attendance little to cheer about.

This story has been updated with post-game quotes and additional material from the Earthquakes locker room.

Head coach Dominic Kinnear took blame for the listless performance:

“I think every once in a while a coach doesn’t prepare his team properly and we didn’t play well tonight. I think I had a big part in that … I don’t think I coached a very good game tonight.”

Why?

“As far as going down a goal early, in a place where we couldn’t fight through it, it’s my job to get it out of them. To come out that loose, we weren’t playing the smartest. I just think the build up to the game, I didn’t do a good job the last three or four days to get this team ready.”

A one-game suspension handed down to Jordan Stewart forced Kinnear to make a change at left-back, subbing in Shaun Francis. Quincy Amarikwa made his season debut and first-half MVP Matias Perez Garcia returned to the starting eleven after sitting out last week’s 1-0 loss at Portland with a left-hamstring injury.

Garcia was taken off the pitch as a precaution in the 68th minute, but didn’t look his normal self for much of the game. Kinnear said although there was a slight risk in playing him, Garcia did not aggravate the injury.

Tommy Thompson once again filled Chris Wondolowski’s place in the starting line-up, with the star striker still away on Gold Cup duty.

Stewart’s presence was missed in the 11th minute, when Clark easily beat Francis to Alex Lima’s cross in the middle of the Quakes penalty box. The unmarked Lima picked out a perfect ball for Clark, who headed it into the back of Bingham’s net to give Houston an early 1-0 advantage.

An eventful first half followed, with both teams nearly adding to the scoreline and forcing saves from Bingham and Dynamo keeper Tyler Deric.

Photos by Trevor Will/SFBay

Fatai Alashe almost scored a golazo in the 21st minute, slamming a volley from outside the box that forced a two-handed punch by Deric. In the 32nd minute, Victor Bernardez nearly upped the ante with a screamer that slammed off the corner of the goalpost following a Shea Salinas touch on an indirect free kick.

Alashe inadvertently spoiled a sure equalizing opportunity for San Jose just minutes into the second half, when Clarence Goodson’s point-blank header deflected off Alashe’s head and out for a goal kick.

Clark nearly scored a brace for Houston in the 57th minute, if not for a diving clearance from Francis. The ball found Clark at the top of the box for a clean shot at goal again just seconds later, with Bingham forced to come up with the save on the second go-around.

Nyassi nixed any chance the Quakes had for a late comeback in the 81st minute, when he severely under hit a back pass to Bingham that led to a two-on-zero break for the Dynamo. Houston sub Lionel Miranda stayed cool on the ball, forcing Bingham to come off his line before rolling it to Bruin for his eighth goal of the season.

Kinnear sympathized with the play that the Gambian will hope to forget:

“It’s a bit of a killer … The player who does it, no matter who it is, doesn’t mean to do it. He just hits the ball not as solid as he wanted to. It’s an unfortunate play for the person involved.”

The Quakes begin a brutal stretch of four games in 12 days, with road trips to Los Angeles and Vancouver sandwiched in between International Champions Cup fixtures against Club America and Manchester United.

Kinnear was clear about how he will approach those games from a squad rotation standpoint:

“Our priority is the MLS games.”

With San Jose still below the red line for the sixth and final Western Conference playoff spot, that’s probably a good idea.

Both the Earthquakes and Dynamo are fighting for that spot, currently held by Sporting Kansas City. San Jose is just two points behind Sporting in 7th place with 25 points, while Houston sits in 8th with 24.

The battle for the final two spots in the Western Conference is likely going to be a dogfight for the remainder of the season, with the 5th-9th place teams currently separated by only six points.