Set pieces have been a considerable point of focus under new San Jose Earthquakes head coach Chris Leitch. The first-time coach identified set pieces as a weakness after his first match in charge last month, costing them two goals against the Seattle Sounders last weekend alone.
Saturday afternoon’s narrow 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids offered a delightful reversal of that narrative. Leitch and assistant coach Steve Ralston drew up set piece routines on the chalkboard in an effort to “mix it up” and their plans came to fruition as Nick Lima’s spectacular volley rocketed them into the lead from Shea Salinas’ corner.
Salinas had aimed at Darwin Ceren on the edge of the area, but the ball floated over his head for Lima, a wing-back, to smash into the top corner. “Not exactly like we drew it up, but pretty close,” said Salinas. To say the least: “It worked out.”
Although the Quakes dominated the second half, Lima’s goal was the only difference as the Quakes failed to convert even more obvious opportunities.
“Winning 1-0 is good, but winning 3-0 just feels a lot better,” Salinas said. “We had the opportunity to do that tonight, just a little more killer instinct.”
Their lineup was bolstered by the return of Darwin Cerén and Marco Ureña from Gold Cup action, which spared them from the humiliating collapses they suffered in their last two MLS matches. Their control of the first half offered reassurance but very little in way of entertainment.
Colorado had the first chance of the match as Kevin Doyle found space for a free header in the seventh minute, but Bingham had time to make the save and the Quakes went right back down the other end for Marco Ureña’s to test Zach MacMath.
The proceedings began to heat up towards the end of the half as Axel Sjoberg’s header forced Bingham into a good stop from a corner and Chris Wondolowski’s bulleted free-kick was deflected inches over the crossbar.
The Quakes carried the momentum into the second half and Tommy Thompson’s introduction added an extra spark to their attack shortly after Lima’s goal. The young midfielder curled over shortly moments after coming on and was a key part in the build-up to Wondolowski’s near-miss from Danny Hoesen’s cross. Ureña came close after rounding MacMath and Wondo scuffed wide again in the eighty-first minute but Lima’s goal remained the difference.