1) Between World Cup calls and injuries, there looks like only a single goals scored expected to start. Where will the offense come from?
With it very likely that the Earthquakes will be without Chris Wondolowski (international duty), as well as Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart (injuries) — three players that just two seasons ago combined to score 50 goals — the offense will have to come through the replacement corps of forwards that, to date, have zero goals among them. Billy Schuler and Mike Fucito will compete for one starting spot, while target forward Adam Jahn is the favorite to take the other. Fucito hasn’t scored since joining San Jose, though he hasn’t had too many opportunities to do so. Jahn has scored a pair of goals while on loan with USL PRO affiliate Sacramento Republic, but he hasn’t scored for the first team since a spell of goals early in his 2013 rookie season.
Can the midfield get into the act? Perhaps a long-range blast from Khari Stephenson could ignite the Earthquakes offense — much like a Simon Dawkins bomb two years ago fueled San Jose at CenturyLink Field. Maybe a surprise from possible starting winger Sam Garza will quiet the sell-out Seattle crowd. Most probable is that a defender gets a goal via a set piece chance, free kick or corner kick. Big Ty Harden (a University of Washington product), expected to fill in at center back for the personnel-poor Quakes, has one goal to his name this season — a set piece header against Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions League — and could do it again.
Perhaps, given that the team traveled only 16 players to Seattle and will certainly lack some on-field chemistry, at least in the initial stages of the game, a scoreless draw is more in order. The Earthquakes would surely take a point on the road without complaint.
2) Former Sounder Cordell Cato has starts as a right back and right mid. What’s his speed meant for San Jose’s play of that side?
Cordell Cato has bounced in and out of head coach Mark Watson’s starting line-up ever since former coach Frank Yallop and the Earthquakes agreed to a mutual parting of ways. The former Sounder, a favorite of Yallop, quickly supplanted malcontent Marvin Chavez on the wings and provided both possession on offense along the sidelines and cover on defense when former right back Steven Beitashour made marauding overlapping runs.
This season, Cato has matured even more and for the most part is considered the incumbent on the right side of the midfield. He is less likely to dither on the ball like he did at times in 2013 and is more adept at delivering the ball into the area — a requirement in the Earthquakes' offensive plan. A well-timed run-and-gun in the Quakes last game led to Cato’s first goal of the season, a breakaway against FC Dallas that gave San Jose an important 1-0 lead.
Speed is one thing, but just as Shea Salinas realized in his early career development, but knowing when to use it is what separates the runners from the soccer players. Cato is more and more understanding when to make his runs and when to get his teammates involved, and at only 21 years of age, should develop even more into an excellent winger.
3) Can the ‘Quakes clog the middle of the field to reduce pressure on their own backline?
With so many regulars missing this weekend — again, the Earthquakes only traveled with 16 players to Seattle! — an all-hands-on-deck attitude will be required, one that is expected to be very defensively oriented. In fact, whatever bus the team used to travel from the airport to its hotel should be conscripted and parked on the pitch, right in front of the goal. Seattle will send wave after wave of attack at the Quakes, and the only logical response is to absorb it and answer with counterattacks.
Stephenson, Sam Cronin, possibly JJ Koval will all be situated centrally in an effort to slow down the Sounders. Pinching in the fullbacks and conceding the wide areas is dangerous, but it is also pragmatic. Much like the Toluca match back in March, when San Jose played much of the game in its own half, the makeshift Earthquakes line-up in this game will have to do the same. In fact, goalkeeper Jon Busch may have in store the busiest day of his career.
Quakes' Projected line-up
Eleven guys wearing blue (maybe red), one of which will be Busch, and the others a collection of guys with double-digit uniform numbers.
Sounders' projected lineup
(4-3-3) Frei; Gonzalez, Scott, Marshall, Azira; Alonso, Pineda, Rose; Neagle, Martins, Cooper