Simon Dawkins Marks His Return from Injury in a Big Way Against Real Salt Lake

Matthew Snyder@schnides14Analyst IIIJuly 17, 2012

SANTA CLARA, CA - APRIL 21:  Simon Dawkins #10 of the San Jose Earthquakes in action against the Real Salt Lake at Buck Shaw Stadium on April 21, 2012 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Meeting reporters in front of a makeshift backdrop at halfcourt of Santa Clara University's Leavey Center just minutes after watching his San Jose Earthquakes mount a thrilling 5-0 victory over Real Salt Lake--its closest competitors for the Western Conference lead--manager Frank Yallop made it perfectly clear that he expects his side to continue pressing for goals throughout the entirety of a match.

"I'm not going to tell our guys to hold back and not score as many goals as they can," Yallop told that small band of collected media. "We didn’t sit back, we didn't try to pad and see the game out, we went at it and we tried to play in the right manner. We had some great finishes tonight."

Yallop had every reason to beam about the game he'd just seen. Real Salt Lake had come to the Bay Area just one point behind San Jose in the Western standings and brimming with confidence after waxing Portland Timbers 3-0 the previous weekend.

Considering San Jose had fought tooth and nail for a 0-0 draw in their own road encounter against FC Dallas, the final game in a debilitating run of six games in 18 days, it would have seemed Salt Lake had momentum on their side.

But thanks to a superb performance from his 'Quakes, Yallop could rest a bit easier knowing he'd hit the pillow that night holding a four-point advantage over his nearest rivals.

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Taking a minute to run through each of his five goal scorers against Salt Lake (well, given as indomitable forward Chris Wondolowski accounted for three of those goals, only three players needed mentioning) Yallop praised the quality he'd witnessed that night.

He noted Wondolowski's hat-trick, then Alan Gordon's opportunistic strike, which had pushed the 'Quakes' lead to 2-0 in the 63rd minute.

Then, after a pause, he remembered Simon Dawkins, the midfielder who had grabbed San Jose's fourth goal of the night when he had smashed home from point-blank range after Wondolowski had done well to deftly touch the ball into the goal-mouth area.

Dawkins's strike was quickly outshone by Wondolowski, who completed his hat-trick less than a minute later, but that fourth goal bodes very well for the Earthquakes going forward.

Twenty weeks into the season, San Jose boast the best record in all of MLS. They are four points clear of East-leaders Sporting Kansas City, albeit with a game in hand, but, given their form for the better part of two months now, they don't look ready to give up that advantage.

San Jose's players are in fine form, and the ranks received a crucial boost from Dawkins's return from a shoulder injury, which had kept him out for two-and-a-half weeks--or the better part of that brutal stretch of games in the past month.

Against Salt Lake, Dawkins came on for winger Marvin Chavez in the 69th minute, slotting into a more advanced central midfield role.

He helped bolster San Jose's dominance in that area of the pitch, which had risen exponentially after influential Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman had been sent off in the 57th minute for a rash challenge on Sam Cronin.

Under contract until 2013 with English Premiership side Tottenham Hotspur, the 24-year-old has now spent the past two seasons on loan with the Earthquakes.

He's been a key contributor to San Jose's cause, playing in 42 games during his tenure while providing the sort of dynamic option in midfield that can turn a game on its head.

Despite having last featured for the Earthquakes on June 23 against that same Salt Lake side, Dawkins said he did not lose any fitness during his convalescence period.

Coming on against Salt Lake on Saturday with the game well in hand at 2-0, the midfielder was able to enjoy a bit more freedom to roam, pushing forward while Cronin and Rafael Baca manned holding roles.

"The guys did really well to build a lead," Dawkins said after the game. "It was an easy game for me to come into, so I was pretty happy.

"I’m more of a tucked in type of player, and that allowed us to keep possession and get a couple more goals, so that was good."

While San Jose still managed to exploit Salt Lake on the wings—Shea Salinas provided the assist for Wondolowski's second goal on the night after blazing past Abdoulie Mansally in the 72nd minute—Dawkins's arrival onto the pitch, coupled with that of Khari Stephenson minutes later, saw the 'Quakes change their mode of attack.

Whereas they'd wanted to use width for most of the match, the fifth and final goal on the night came from a deft pass in central midfield by Stephenson for Wondolowski.

While his statistical contribution ended with the goal, Dawkins contributed mostly in the way he held the ball and pushed forward in attack.

Blessed with pace and a preternatural ability to ward off defenders even amidst the most blinding bouts of pressure, Dawkins provides something extra when he is included in the midfield unit.

While he might cringe at the comparison, Dawkins has a style of play—not to mention his rugged approach to potential challenges—that hearkens to mind Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby, who has earned the nickname "L'Araignee" (The Spider) among his French national team colleagues for his uncanny ability to keep possession.

His three goals for San Jose this season have been an added boon, and, as the Earthquakes head into Wednesday night's home match against FC Dallas, Dawkins's ability to launch forward could be a vital asset.

Wondolowski told the San Jose Mercury News after Saturday's game that "the midfield won the game for us."

The star striker, who has 17 goals in 18 league games this season, also said that from his perspective, Cronin and Baca had been the best players for the 'Quakes since June 30's thrilling 4-3 win over LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium.

"They cover so much ground, and it makes other players’ jobs so much easier, especially mine," Wondolowski said. "I appreciate what they do out there."

Now with Dawkins back in that flourishing midfield fold, San Jose have yet one more option to dominate that realm. Expect the first-place 'Quakes to take full advantage against Dallas on Wednesday night.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes used in this article were recorded at the Earthquakes-Salt Lake game on Saturday, July 14.