Sigi Schmid went with a familiar defense of Leo Gonzalez on the left, Patrick Ianni and Jeff Parke in the middle, and James Riley on the right. Gonzo was very active and looked like the left back revelation he once was back when he was added to the squad in August of '09, and something we saw with decreasing frequency last year. Overall it was a typical approach from the back 4, as Riley was able to also push forward some, and the CB's stuck their noses in on set pieces.
In the midfield, we saw Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans paired up for the second straight match in the middle, likewise with the wings of Steve Zakuani and Erik Friberg.
The big question entering the match was who would play up top, with Fredy Montero out of action. Mauro Rosales was given the nod up top with O'Brian White, and almost from the off proved his worth as a 2nd striker. At times in the first 10-15 minutes it appeared he was trading off with Zakuani, but as the match wore on they settled into their respective positions.
Much of the first half was end-to-end action, with both teams getting stretched at times, This seemed to particularly effect the Sounders defense, as James Riley looked a bit out of sorts and tentative at times, and Ianni's night is best described as "ragged".
There wasn't really anything markedly different about the Sounders attack, and the best explanation for the fact they managed two goals in the first 45 - after just 1 in the previous 270' - is that they just finally got a couple to go in, rather than anything really due to tactics or personnel changes.
The second half saw Alvaro Fernandez come on for a clearly diminished Friberg - questions must be asked about his fitness to start giving his illness we learned about after the game. It turned out that Sigi could've used at least one more sub later on in the match, and to squander one on a half-time switch for a less-than healthy player seems dubious. We had every reason to expect that Nate Jaqua would enter at some point, and when he did in the 66' it was for O'Brian White. This meant that it was almost certain Sigi would use his 3rd sub for Rosales, who certainly was showing clear signs of needing one by the time he was pulled for David Estrada in the 83'.
Upon Jaqua's introduction he appeared to be playing as a 2nd striker, with Rosales the top man in the formation. This may have been due to Jaqua falling back to use his size to help win balls in the midfield, or the fatigue of Rosales, or likely a combination of both. Jaqua later became the top man when Estrada was introduced.
After a lively start which saw both teams threaten and San Jose coming dangerously close, the Sounders took a 17' minute lead when Evans beat the defense to a dangerous Rosales service across the goal-mouth and knocked it in past Jon Busch. It is worth noting that the play came off a deep throw-in that was won thanks to OBW's hustle and pressure on Jason Hernandez after Friberg sent a hopeful long ball out of the back; the kind of low-percentage play that often frustrates more than anything. OBW took the throw to Friberg who gave it to Rosales, who did the rest himself, taking a clever touch to beat his man to the end line and sending in a dangerous cross. It is an underrated touch for a player to send in a ball along the ground across the goal mouth, created a situation where any touch in front of the net can put the defense in great peril. All to often we see balls sent in too high or long, or too far back where it is easier for a defender to deal with. It was a well-earned and well-scored goal.
And such as it is that the San Jose equalizer seemed to come far to easily, although it is only fair to say it was in the cards, as the 'Quakes had a couple of early chances go begging. Evans sent a careless pass up the middle and gave it away, and two touches later Bobby Convey sent a through ball for Simon Dawkins, who took advantage of Ianni being a step or two behind the play. It was superbly finished, and Keller really had no chance.
The Sounders took the lead back on another brilliant bit of ball-work from Steve Zakuani, and OBW was finally able to open his Sounders account by getting on the end of the cross and heading it in the net. Alonso pounced on a loose ball and got it to Zakuani wide, in space, challenging a defender backed off to not get beat; the very situation we have seen him exploit time and again.
The Sounders could go to the locker feeling pretty good about a 2-1 lead on the road, particularly after the rather horrifying finishing that plagued them for the first 3 matches, but the same team with the same energy never really seemed to return for the second half.
Fernandez provided a breath of fresh air on coming in for Friberg, and continues to demonstrate his technical astuteness, even if it isn't always accompanied by the energy we're looking for from a winger.
A misplaced pass attempt by Alonso gave the ball away right to Khari Stephenson, who took a couple dribbles before slamming a highlight-reel strike from distance that found the top corner, just eluding Keller who was able to get a piece of it but not enough to keep it out. Just like that, the match was drawn, and although we didn't necessarily know it then, the Sounders had hit their high-water mark.
It is worth noting that the Sounders didn't register a shot on goal in the second half, with all 4 coming in the first. The last 30 minutes were often somewhat dire, with the side noticeably running out of energy - despite the substitutions - and the game as a whole losing energy and momentum, with San Jose enjoying an edge in play.
Brad Evans' contributions to this team are often overlooked and under appreciated, but he really ought to have come off in the second half. In a couple of instances late, he put himself in no position to defend as could be seen laboring back and looking likely to foul. Zakuani was a disappointment after the hour mark as well, rarely exhibiting the ability he has to be an attacking weapon.
Rosales influence started to quite rapidly diminish, and ideally could have yielded to fresher legs far sooner. Jaqua, upon his entrance, provided a modicum of spark, but was also undone by his clear lack of form. He was willing to fight for the ball - an appreciated quality - but this also earned him a rather stupid yellow card for a blatant shirt pull.
Despite all this, the Sounders had their chances, the most glorious being a loose ball which came to Jaqua's feet about 10 yards out. He was unable to get off a decent shot and his half-whiffed effort was deflected wide.
For the entire match, the back line looked downright porous at times, and seemed to be easily beat by simple San Jose attacks, for which they weren't always punished. As mentioned, Gonzo was far better last night, and put in some solid work against Chris Wondolowski, but also let players turn inside to easily at times. Riley had far from his best match defensively, and Ianni looked a step away from disaster at times, including conceding a dangerous free kick in the dying moments just outside the area. Parke's game went largely unnoticed, which in many cases for a CB means a smooth game, never a bad thing.
On the whole, the Sounders should be content with the draw. It was a match that could've gone either way, but in the end the result was becoming perilous, and the final whistle came sooner that San Jose could find the winner.
It cannot be overlooked that this team managed to score two goals, and it was said more than once that this could usually be expected to win a match on the road. I'm not sure where this mentality comes from, as both teams were determined to attack but it was the Earthquakes defense which looked steadier for most of the 90'.
While it may or may not be fair to question whether Sigi got his substitutions wrong last night, what is clear is he wasn't interested in any significant tactical changes. All the changes were basically like-for-like, and the team as a whole has been relatively tactically rigid through the first 4 matches. Given the level of play, and the results that many of us feel they are deserving of, it may seem silly to ask for anything drastically different. But the results they are actually getting are far different, and one wonders how much longer this can continue before a shake-up could be called for.
Last night was an adequate result, but does little to assuage the mounting discomfort over lack of points on the table. Had the team managed to split their first two, and be sitting with 5 instead of 2, I think the perception of last night's match would be far different. As it is, it will probably be viewed more negatively than it really was. San Jose was a good team which made us really work for that point.