Know Your Enemy: San Jose Earthquakes
Buckle your chinstrap, ’cause OTF’s Stephen Mangat is back with a primer on the Goons, ahem, Goonies, from NorCal…
While history is littered with stories of people coming back from death’s doorstep to triumph, it’s amazing to think how many of these cases should have never happened. From Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League Final, to countless crooked politicians, to just about every James Bond triumph, comeback and victory was only achievable due to opponents’ inability to put the eventual winners to the sword. The lesson is, as always, to be sure to kill off an enemy when given the chance.
Last season, this lesson wasn’t learned by the clubs of MLS when they took on the ‘Quakes. But up until last Saturday San Jose (winners of the Supporters Shield and a host of points in the final minutes of matches in 2012) appeared to have lost their magic in 2013. As they headed into the “California Clasico” with the LA Galaxy, the Earthquakes had won once in their past seven, including a U.S. Open Cup loss to lower league opposition. Plus, they were second-from-bottom and six points out of the playoffs.
But, two second-half extra time goals in front of 51,000 fans later and it looks like San Jose has found its mojo. With the stunning win over the Galaxy, is their season resurrected? In addition, the signing of USMNT center back Clarence Goodson has the mood changing in the Bay Area.
So let’s take a look at the Earthquakes and see what the Fire will be up against Wednesday night…
PLAY OUR MUSIC!!!
There’s a new sheriff in San Jose as Mark Watson recently replaced long-time coach Frank Yallop. Watson, like Yallop, is a Canadian and was a part of the Canadian national youth coaching staff while Yallop was in charge of the senior side. So Watson is pretty much Yallop’s guy and, as such, San Jose aren’t much different under Watson than they were under Yallop.
It’ll be two big guys up top with Chris Wondolowski looking to find the ball and chances to shoot. The back will be a flat four with a slightly unbalanced midfield due to Wondolowski’s license to roam a bit.
NOTE: Wondolowski will be on USMNT duty, so expect rookie and Stanford alum Adam Jahn to start in his stead. Or perhaps It’ll be Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart up top. The latter’s status is unknown however, as he used his head as a battering ram last Saturday night.
Jon Busch has been around for ages, or at least it seems that way. The MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2008, Busch isn’t huge but he’s fundamentally sound. Many Fire fans remember that Busch was on of their own in 2008 and 2009.
Right back Steven Beitashour, left back Justin Morrow and center back Victor Bernardez were lauded as some of the league’s best last season, but this year is a different story. The signing of Goodson will certainly help though not right away as there’s a bit of delayed gratification involved since he’ll be with the USMNT for the Gold Cup. Veteran Jason Hernandez will partner with who the hell knows to round out the back four, as Victor Bernardez is suspended after receiving two yellows versus LA.
Perhaps Chicago fans will see their beloved Kraken, Dan Gargan, hit the pitch come Wednesday night?
Sam Cronin and Rafael Baca will probably be in the middle. They both are tidy with the ball and relatively tenacious off it. Winger Shea Salinas is one of the fastest players in the league and he can do damage based on that alone. Similar to Salinas though with a bit more quality is the Honduran Marvin Chavez who is nicknamed “el hijo del viento” (the son of the wind). However, continuing with the theme, Chavez is out on Honduran national team duty. His replacement? Beats the hell out of me.
It’ll likely be Alan Gordon/Steven Lenhart and/or Adam Jahn up front. They’re all big dudes who score goals but their most important quality is their success at fighting for balls and winning them, which allows the San Jose attack to start high up the field. At their best, the Earthquakes play the ball into the forwards (on the floor or in the air), one of the big guys wins/holds it and within a pass or two, the ball gets to somebody (usually Wondo) who shoots and scores.
How can Chicago win?
Don’t get pushed around…
The Earthquakes’ strength is in their physicality. They’re strong, fast and dogged, so the Fire should expect a battle from which they can’t run. Ideally, Chicago would pass around and through San Jose and skill would triumph. Unfortunately, the Fire haven’t been able to execute such a possession-based approach, so they should do some extra push-ups and squats pronto to get ready.
…but don’t go toe-to-toe
That said, it’s a bad idea to play into the strength of one’s opponent, so while the Fire shouldn’t shy away from the argy-bargy, they should play their own game (whatever that may be).
San Jose does just fine playing longball and if their defenders are given time, they’ll find the forwards who will make life very difficult for the Chicago backline. As such, the Fire should squeeze the field a bit.
The Fire defense can play a bit higher up the field since the Earthquakes, aside from Salinas, don’t have threatening speed. The Fire forwards need to apply at least a bit of pressure to make sure the San Jose defenders don’t spend all game serving the ball to their forwards.
So good luck, Chicago fans. The Earthquakes are always a fun opponent with their aggro style, so while you’ve seen that your boys can scrap in a battle, it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with total war.
OTF’s Stephen Mangat is a flag-lovin’, beer-guzzlin, truck-drivin’ pyromaniac. Follow him @smangat12