SAN JOSE -- The Earthquakes think their attack became too predictable in 2013, so they have taken steps to confound opponents a bit more.
They have added versatile forward Billy Schuler, a former North Carolina All-American who played the past two years for Hammarby IF of Sweden, and accomplished midfielders Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi and Atiba Harris.
The thinking being: Give opponents a few more jabs and feints to go with all those powerful right crosses.
"Last year, we were all kind of in agreement that we were a little one-dimensional," veteran target man Alan Gordon said Thursday. "We want to add a couple more dimensions, some different ways to get the ball into the back of the net."
The club will wrap up preseason play at the Rose City Invitational in Portland, Ore., with matches against the Portland Timbers on Sunday, Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Wednesday and Portmore United FC (Jamaica) on March 1.
The season opener is March 15 against Real Salt Lake at Buck Shaw Stadium, four days after the Quakes host Mexico's Toluca in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
Gordon, 32 and in his 11th MLS season, is coming off his second consecutive offseason neuroma foot surgery, this time to his right foot. Last year, it was the left foot. He said his foot "feels great" and his rehabilitation is "right on schedule."
He feels "much better" than he did going into last season and doesn't consider the new season as a path for personal redemption.
"I'm just focused on the team being successful, and with that will be the individual accomplishments," he said.
Gordon had only four goals last season, after scoring a career-best 13 in 2012.
With what figures to be another strong defense this season, the Quakes probably won't need three goals a game to win. Gordon doesn't think the team's character and core strengths will change; it's the attack that needs tweaking.
"Teams kind of knew what we were gonna do," Gordon said. "We've got to be able to find different ways to score than just getting it out wide and crossing and finishing. We've got to be able to play a little bit more and just be a little bit more creative in the attacking third."
Coach Mark Watson says he has a good situation with Gordon and Steven Lenhart alternating at the target spot, with Chris Wondolowski spinning off them. Sorting out the playing time up top can be a bit complicated, though.
"The tough thing is getting our three strikers on the field at the same time," Watson said. "So there's a lot of competition and a really healthy rivalry between Gordon and Steven. They're close friends. If they're both healthy, then we figure out the best scenario from game to game. Who's healthier? Who's the better matchup?"
Clearly, Schuler, whom the Quakes acquired through a weighted lottery, gives the club another attacking option. He had 16 goals and five assists to lead North Carolina to the NCAA title in 2011 and has looked sharp in training.
"Schuler has done great," Watson said. "He's a very good player and has a good feeling for the game and spaces and how to get on the ball. I've been really impressed with him. He's fit in really well with the group, scored some good goals. He's another one that's in contention for spots, and he's going to make the coach's choices very difficult."
Schuler, 23, said things have gone well in Quakes camp as he assimilates with the squad. He prides himself on his versatility.
"I'm not the biggest guy or the tallest, I'm not gonna win a ton of balls up in the air, but I'm pretty good at holding the ball up when it comes, to my chest or on the ground," Shuler said. "So I think I can do a few things pretty well; not just a single-type player."
Real Salt Lake at Earthquakes, March 15, 7 p.m.,
at Buck Shaw Stadium