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Sounders at San Jose Earthquakes US Open Cup - Three Questions

San Jose's not-dynamic, but prolific duo should start in their Open Cup match tonight.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
San Jose's not-dynamic, but prolific duo should start in their Open Cup match tonight. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Getty Images

The Goonies from the South Bay are taking their 2012 US Open Cup run on the road, by only a few miles. In fact this will be their third straight home match at a non-standard facility for the San Jose Earthquakes. Tonight's 7:30 PM match (radio 97.3FM & audio stream for Seattle, video stream from San Jose) will be at Kezar Stadium. Unless you remember the California Victory you are likely unfamiliar with that venue.

San Jose beat two pro teams to make it to this round. They beat the Fort Lauderdale Strikers 2-1 and then edged the Minnesota Stars 1-nil. Both sides are in the NASL, where the Atlanta Silverbacks play. But, the Quakes are taking this tourney a bit more seriously than in years past. Tonight's lineup will be strong, even with short, but not very short rest. Today's guide for Three Questions is Robert of Quake, Rattle & Goal.

SaH: Kezar Stadium is unfamiliar territory. Does it play long/short, wide/narrow? Will this help the 'Quakes with some brand extension?

QR&G: The pitch at Kezar Stadium is the same length as that at Buck Shaw Stadium, but the width is a bit less. Currently, NPSL side San Francsico Stompers call Kezar home, and they have remarked that the field is in excellent condition. Don’t expect the issue to be field-related, but more likely the often unpredictable early summer weather in San Francisco. June fog persists in that part of the City and can make for very uncomfortable playing conditions.

The soccer history of Kezar Stadium is rather limited, but the City by the Bay does crave the beautiful game. In past seasons, the Earthquakes have featured preseason matches at Kezar, and earlier this year a league match against Houston across town at AT&T Park. Marketing efforts in San Francisco have never met with too much success, but with the Earthquakes the only professional team in the area, their choices are limited. The Houston match attracted a sizeable crowd, but it was part of a doubleheader with the Mexico U-23s. The Earthquakes have never played a stand-alone match that counted in San Francisco.

SaH: Is there a defensive system with which Wondo struggles at all?

QR&G: Wondolowski’s success comes not from tireless work on the ball and hold up play — Steven Lenhart has that job — but from seeking those instants of space in the defense to take advantage of scoring opportunities. The solution that seems to have worked in the past is to keep one central defender as Wondo’s shadow, thus limiting his ability to get loose in the area. However, overplay that strategy, and Lenhart — or Alan Gordon late in games — will gladly take advantage of the extra space afforded to him.

The bottom line with Wondo is that you have to hope that as a defense you don’t lose track of where he is lurking. This season, he has expanded his efforts to float free on the wings and make runs behind the defense. If the outside backs mark him too closely in those cases, Earthquakes wingers can advance unimpeded into the attacking third to deliver uncontested crossing passes into the area. Wondo does not impact games with the ball at his feet, he impacts games with his movement away from it.

SaH: San Jose has eight players that started their last two matches, including the full backline, are they going to be as weary as the Sounders?

QR&G: Yes, but at least they will benefit from the extra day’s rest and being in San Jose as opposed to traveling for the game. Head coach Frank Yallop spoke yesterday about mixing him some fresh legs into the starting XI for the Open Cup match, specifically in the midfield. Colombian playmaker Tressor Moreno is almost a certainty to start and could be paired with either Jean-Marc Alexandre or Sam Cronin as the defensive midfielder. Shea Salinas is hopeful of starting on the left wing against the Sounders, while Marvin Chavez or Rafael Baca remains the chief options on the right side. The tireless forward pairing of Wondolowski and Lenhart should start up top, but one or the other could be spelled by Turkish forward Sercan Guvenisik. The only certainty in the starting XI is that second-year goalkeeper David Bingham, who played against Colorado a week ago and in San Jose’s first two Open Cup matches, will start between the posts.

Overall, a key to the Earthquakes success in 2012 has been that the step in quality between the starting XI and the next XI is very shallow. This allows for a versatility in substitutions that coach Yallop has not enjoyed in seasons past. The Open Cup tournament is no longer an afterthought for Yallop and the organization, and with that in mind the team is expected to comprise a very capable line-up.

SaH: Wild ass guess at a lineup? I say it like that because projecting Seattle will be impossible.

Beitashour Opara Hernandez Morrow
Baca Cronin Moreno Salinas
Wondolowski Lenhart

Disclaimer — that is a big guess. Beitahour could sit for Suggs. Morrow could slide centrally and newly signed Zayner may get the start.

* * *

QR&G: Matt Doyle, the MLS Armchair Analyst, declared that the Sounders were officially in "crisis mode" following their match at Portland. Certainly the team is struggling in MLS right now, but when the USOC spotlight turns on, that doesn't seem to be the case. How will the current MLS swoon affect the way the Sounders enter the game Tuesday night?

SaH: If anything it will drive them to perform. The only way to climb out of a slump is to start winning. For some odd reason the Sounders perform better in the Open Cup and this may be just what they need. Of course the same thing could be said about the two week break with the wins over Atlanta and Cal FC and in the end that didn't change much when MLS play started again.

Jobs are clearly on the line. With the transfer window opening just around the corner Seattle's players will have to perform or be replaced. Is that drastic? Yes, but Sigi is clearly part of the foundation of the team's long term success whereas players can be changed out.

QR&G: The Earthquakes are liking to make a few changes to their USOC starting XI from the line-ups that played in league play the last week. What changes might the Sounders make from the team that lost to Portland on Sunday?

SaH: Quite a few changes should be expected. That starting lineup was 10 of 11 of the starters that drew last Wednesday to Sporting KC. Since Montero can't play in Colorado and Fernandez is well rested both will probably start. Andy Rose seems to have replaced Brad Evans for tactical reasons. The backline is a huge question as it hasn't been good, but there aren't healthy and rested options. Daniel Steres and Roger Levesque could play along the line and I wouldn't be surprised. Leo Gonzalez should replace Marc Burch. I'm talking myself onto a ledge.

SaH: The Earthquakes front office has taken to heart the U.S. Open Cup tournament in a way they never have before and see the match-up with the three-time defending Cup champions as a measuring stick for not just the team, but the entire organization. What message have the Sounders made in regard to being the team with the target on their back and how they approach their competition the last couple years.

QR&G: Seattle knows what it is to be targeted in this tournament. A win and they'd have their 6th Adrian Hanauer GM'd team in the semifinals. They've beaten MLS squads with history of success in the tourney to win two Open Cups (D.C. United and Chicago Fire); they traveled to local, but lower division rival Portland to advance; and they beat the darlings of American soccer to advance to this match. There is an organizational desire to set another historical bar and become the first ever team to win four straight. This want may be related to some provincialism in Seattle and the organization wanting to make it clear that the market was ignored too long by MLS and USSF. Still Tuesday night's game is probably the second toughest of Sounders FC's Open Cup history.

Dave's WAG at the lineup

Fernandez Cato
Gonzalez Alonso Levesque
Hurtado Ianni

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