The San Jose Earthquakes are not accustomed to goalkeeper uncertainty. The Quakes have been blessed with a streak of highly consistent stoppers ever since the club’s resurrection in 2008, with Joe Cannon, then Jon Busch and now David Bingham serving long spells in goal. Until last weekend, Bingham had made ninety-one consecutive MLS starts, second only to NYRB’s Luis Robles among MLS goalkeepers.
That streak ended when Andrew Tarbell nabbed the starting spot in Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo. The twenty-three-year-old stopper was drafted in 2016 as depth in case Bingham was up called to the national team for that summer’s Copa Centenario or even lured to a European club. Never was the Clemson graduate expected to outdo Bingham, but a series of shaky performances from Bingham has left the door open this summer.
Tarbell made his case in the club’s US Open Cup semifinal run, impressing with his aerial dominance and shot-stopping capacity, and was finally rewarded for his patience with his first MLS start.
“You always want to get an opportunity, so I’m grateful for it and am going to keep my head down, keep working hard and be ready when I go in again,” he told Quakes Talk at training on Thursday morning.
“Confidence comes from good preparation so I try to focus on that every day and be ready to go.”
Coach Chris Leitch, who was a part of the decision to draft Tarbell in his former capacity as Technical Director, hopes that his competition with Bingham will make them both better players. “It’s a really competitive locker room with some really good players,” he said. Andrew’s been training really well and took his chance really well in the US Open Cup match. He’s been solid back there.”
Although the Quakes suffered a disappointing defeat, Tarbell saved a penalty and won the MLS save of the week. He sees it only from the team’s perspective, however, saying: “we’ve got to come out and do better next game.”
It was the club’s sixth straight road defeat, a streak that is potentially fatal to their playoff hopes. It is particularly tough to play on the road in MLS, which Leitch emphasized, but it shouldn’t be this tough. “We’ll continue to take a look at [it] and figure out how we can turn the tide when we’re away from Avaya,” Leitch said.
He was reluctant to discuss the sources of the problem, however, noting that there are “a lot of factors” at hand.
Clearly, it’s still a puzzle for the team and they’re thankful to return home to face the Philadelphia Union at the weekend. “Any time you’re at home you want to maximize the opportunity to take three points,” Leitch said. He stopped short of calling Saturday’s matchup a “must-win” but they have an expectation to perform given the team’s recent stellar form at home.
Saturday’s match is also lined up to be Vako’s first home start, nearly two months after he was signed as a DP player. The twenty-four-year-old is rather shy by nature but he’s been encouraged by the team to take the spotlight.
“He’s got a lot of really good qualities on the ball, for sure,” said Leitch. “He’s a really creative player, he’s got a really good relationship with the ball. He’s pretty unique and can think the game in a very quick way when he’s in the offensive third. He’s also not bothered by the traffic that’s around him. Those are good qualities for an attacking player.
“He’s learning this league a bit too, there’s other stuff like his fitness level and defensive responsibilities as well. He keeps getting more and more comfortable the longer he stays.”
Although the Union currently labor near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, their defensive record ranks among the best in the league and Vako could be key in unlocking the defense.
“[They’re a] dangerous team,” said Leitch. “They’ve got some really dangerous players with speed on the wings. [They’ve got a] bigger, athletic guy that’s in good form that can score goals up top with CJ Sapong. Ilsinho underneath has a lot of good activity. They pose problems, that’s for sure. We’ve got to be hitting on all facets coming on Saturday.”