SAN JOSE -- Mark Watson is showing flexibility in his fledgling coaching career with the Earthquakes.
He is weighing a formation change Saturday when winless San Jose (0-2-2) plays the second-place Colorado Rapids in Commerce, Colo.
Watson, in his first full year at San Jose, is not so stubborn to insist on using the time-honored 4-4-2 formation for all occasions. Note: He is partial to lining up with four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards.
But Watson might tweak it against the Rapids (3-1-1) because of questions at right fullback.
Here's the situation: The Quakes don't have a natural defender on the right side with starter Brandon Barklage questionable after suffering a thigh contusion last weekend. German Andreas Gorlitz is not ready as he recovers from a hamstring muscle issue.
Watson inserted J.J. Koval into the backline Sunday when Barklage went down. The Stanford rookie performed admirably but is a central midfielder probably best suited as Sam Cronin's backup.
"The way he responded after Brandon's injury, he once again is the discussion to start Saturday," Watson said this week.
No doubt San Jose's coaches have options. They could move speedy midfielder Cordell Cato to the backline and start Yannick Djalo in the right midfield slot. While that combination could create a potent attack it also would leave the Quakes' defense vulnerable.
Koval would be a strong defensive presence but perhaps not add much to the offense. The Earthquakes rely on crosses from either side to create scoring opportunities and Koval is not experienced at service into the penalty box.
Atiba Harris is another option. The well-traveled veteran joined the Quakes this year in a trade with Colorado for Marvin Chavez. So far, neither player has contributed much to their new teams.
But the 6-foot-3 Harris is an intriguing possibility to play in the midfield because he is built like a center back and is good at connecting passes. He might be a better pairing if Cato returns to the backline.
"I love pushing forward," he said, adding he can help control balls in the air.
Watson, as usual, declined to talk about his lineup.
But here is what he said about the Rapids under new coach Pablo Mastroeni, who took over when Oscar Pareja left this year for FC Dallas:
"They've looked different in the past three games. Sometimes it's formation, sometimes it's personnel."
The Quakes have spent the week identifying Colorado's main characteristics "and having our players prepared for any little adjustments that are made," Watson added. "Every game they come up with something a little different so we have to be prepared for whatever they do."
Mastroeni has the Rapids playing with a 4-4-2 formation although they used a diamond against Toronto FC last weekend.
Under Pareja, Colorado primarily played with a 4-3-3, adding an extra striker into the attack.
Watson sounded as if he is most comfortable with the 4-4-2 because of its flexibility during games.
"If we look how the teams are playing now, they are overloading numbers in the midfield," the coach said. "One of our jobs is making sure we can handle that."
By lining up with four midfielders, Watson can move his players around quickly to adjust to opponent's strategies. But he also indicated that he might consider matching numbers in the midfield, which means either one fewer defender or forward.
San Jose, however, might not need to worry about that with the presence of Djalo. The Portuguese winger looked impressive while playing the second half Sunday against Columbus.
He operated in the middle as much as the outside, which is exactly what Watson wanted.
"He's very good beating players wide but also very comfortable coming inside and adding that extra number but being very dynamic and helping us attacking from those spots," Watson said. "He does things to make himself less predictable. It's one of the things we wanted to add to the team."
But the committee ignored the more egregious act: Gonzalez had knocked Wondolowski to the ground with a blindside forearm although sitting on a yellow card.
The referees probably should have sent the defender off with a second yellow card.
"I think the video speaks for itself," Watson said. "Everyone can make their own judgment on that. It's not what you want to see in the league. It's not for us to do anything about it."
Wondolowski said he's over the ugly play.
"Getting him suspended now does nothing for us," the team's leading scorer said.
Wondolowski has become a target because of his ability to find openings near the goalmouth.
"That's part of the game," the Danville native said. "That's why I like the game."
The prolific goal scorer doesn't want an enforcer like in the NHL, though.
"I can handle my own," he said. "I don't need someone to fight my battles."
Wondolowski recounted the last goal.
"It's a great buildup," he said. "Clint Dempsey got the ball out wide to Tony Beltran. I started going near post and saw Michael Bradley making such a hard run there, so I decided to pull off the back post and he had a great flick to me and I was able to tap it home."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.