The San Jose Earthquakes side that kicks off in Seattle this weekend will be, to put it mildly, undermanned. Their best have been raptured away to the soccer heaven of pre-World Cup camp and the soccer hell of suspension and injury, leaving a purgatory of role players trying to fill massive gaps in the roster.
To give you some idea of the magnitude of the losses, here's the entire list of their goal scorers this season: Chris Wondolowski (5), Victor Bernardez (2), Yannick Djalo (1), and Cordell Cato (1). Wondolowski is with Jurgen. The titanic Victor Bernardez is suspended after this cynical display of stud-fu. Which leaves, at best, Djalo and ex-Sounder Cato as the only available goal-scorers. And Djalo is questionable with injury, so...
And here's their entire list of players with assists: Shea Salinas (4), Clarence Goodson (1), Bernardez (1), and Jon Busch (1). Salinas is out after being red-carded against FC Dallas. Goodson is at camp. Bernardez we've addressed. So it's very likely that the Quakes team that lines up on Saturday will include one player who's scored this season (once) and one player who had (one) assist, who is also their goalkeeper.
Given the magnitude of the losses, it'd be hard to come up with a guess at how they'll line up and play this week. Talking about how to mark the ghosting Wondolowski would be pointless. And there's just as little point talking about working around the aerial dominance of Bernardez or about shutting down the service from Salinas on the left wing.
|Alan Gordon||If the Quakes do try to stick to their usual style, they'll be very dependent on Gordon being threatening in the air.|
|John Busch||The outfield is decimated, but they still have Busch between the pipes. Above average keeper despite his size.|
|Cordell Cato||I know, right? Sounders castoff was converted to a fullback to start the season but is now back in the attack. Brings speed like no one else on the roster.|
And statistical analysis is just as suspect. San Jose is, predictably, #1 in the league at winning aerial duels. But will that be true without Bernardez in the game (or Steven Lenhart, who's been out injured since March)? They're, predictably, #2 in crosses. But will that be true without Salinas?
There are really two choices for the Quakes: try and continue how they play, but with massive pieces of the strategy missing; or build something new from scratch. In the first instance, they'd try to get crosses in from fullbacks Brandon Barklage and Jordan Stewart on to Alan Gordon and/or Adam Jahn in the air. That's a reasonable approximation of their style of play, but without Wondolowski floating around to clean up the mess. And the "San Jose way" has the added benefit of being a useful way to play in difficult conditions on the road. Though it has the downside that Chad Marshall might be the toughest defender in the league to try to attack in the air.
A change-up would be try to beat Seattle with pace instead. The counterattacks from the New England Revolution certainly exposed some weaknesses on the Sounders. In that case you could see a forward pairing of Cato and Mike Fucito, and a heavy emphasis on through-balls from Sam Cronin in midfield. That would let them stay pretty compact defensively, probably with two defensive central midfielders to choke Obafemi Martins out of the game. And on the break Fucito and Cato run at the corners to try to get behind the Seattle defense.
But the problem with using New England as a template is that Seattle isn't the same team that played last week either. That's mostly losses, with our best player Clint Dempsey gone and DeAndre Yedlin's contribution to the attacking width absent. But in some cases it's a positive change. Brad Evans was a very unconvincing left back, and now Leo Gonzalez should be back to start after subbing into the last game. And him paired with a right back more defensively oriented than Yedlin will eliminate the massive gaps on the flanks that the Revolution exploited. And just as important, Seattle learned from their mistakes. The central defensive midfield was a sieve as Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda didn't coordinate well enough on their defensive coverage. I would expect that that's something they've been working hard on.
Having addressed San Jose's conundrum in the attack, we should consider the bigger problem they have in defense. Their starting center backs are both missing. Goodson and Bernardez might be the best center back pairing in the league. But with both out, suddenly it's a massive weakness. They'll have to cobble together a pair from Ty Harden — a fullback who's played a total of 15 games in the last three seasons, Jason Hernandez — who's played only 67 minutes this season due to injury, and JJ Koval — a rookie defensive midfielder who played center back in CCL play. Even with Dempsey out, that's a defensive situation that should be exploited by Martins and Lamar Neagle, who'll likely be back to a forward or wing-forward position.
Really, there's everything going for Seattle in this one. They're back at home highly motivated to play well after a humiliating loss last week. It will be the first fully open stadium game of the season, so there should be at least 45 thousand people willing them on. We've even got Arlo calling the game for old time's sake. And the team they'll be facing is, frankly, a skeleton crew. If the current Quakes roster had to play a full season they'd threaten DC United's record for haplessness.
Which is to say it's both a perfect opportunity to put the Revolution game behind them and a tremendous risk. Because if they lose this game, then the rumbles of discontent that started in New England will explode into outrage, even if the team is still at the top of the table. Much better would be to get back on a winning footing and build some momentum again.