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San Jose Scouting Report: So Much For Heritage

Having lived as a Route One caterpillar, the San Jose Earthquakes are emerging from their cocoon as a delicate Jogo Bonito butterfly.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

We last scouted the San Jose Earthquakes just over two weeks ago, before our 1-0 road loss to open Levi's Stadium. So you could argue that there really isn't much more to cover. Fortunately for the Scouting Report Bureau, the Quakes are in the midst of reinventing themselves both in their roster makeup and their style of play. And that gives us plenty to talk about.

For the last few years the face of the Earthquakes has been Chris Wondolowski. But just behind his unassuming mug hovered the trollface of Steven Lenhart, who had been the embodiment of the bruising, aerial style that defined Frank Yallop's San Jose team for years. But Lenhart has not appeared in their last four matches. Nor has fellow Bash Brother Alan Gordon, who was just traded away to the Galaxy. Nor has young proto-Basher Adam Jahn. Their spots in the lineup are now filled by the Portuguese slasher Yannick Djalo and newly signed Argentine playmaker Matías Pérez García.

To illustrate the change, here are the Quakes' per-90 rates and league rank in various stats. The first column is the data from the games up to and including Lenhart's last, which I will call the Bash Era. The second is data from the last four games, which I will call the Modern Era.

Stat Bash Era /G (Rank) Modern Era /G (Rank)
Headed Shots 2.82 (1st) 0.33 (19th)
Aerial Duels Won 23.0 (1st) 16 (7th)
Total Crosses 23.1 (3rd) 12.0 (18th)
Fast Breaks 0.06 (19th) 2.3 (1st)
Accurate Through Balls 0.24 (19th) 1.0 (5th)

Those are stark changes. The team transformed almost overnight from one predicated entirely on crossing into heads to one built on speed and through balls. But changing tactical horses in midstream so suddenly is bound to create inconsistency. And San Jose has shown that as well, as they went from crushing Chicago 5-1 at home a few weeks ago — showing all of the flair and dynamism that their new style promises — to getting crushed 5-0 at home last weekend as they got carved up by the equal flair and dynamism of Fabian Castillo.

It is notoriously difficult for new foreign signings to settle into MLS quickly and I'd expect an adjustment period for Perez Garcia, a period that will be further extended by a knee injury that will keep him out for the next 4-6 weeks.Unfortunately, San Jose doesn't really have time for an adjustment period, as they're rapidly running out of games to climb back into the playoff places. In his first starts he's played ostensibly in a forward pair with Wondolowski, but was well withdrawn into what looks like his comfortable attacking midfield area.

Leaving Wondolowski alone up top doesn't seem like a fruitful approach, since he has none of the making of a target man, but that's how they lined up. We may see it again, fruitful or not, since Mark Watson doesn't have many other options. Even if he's no longer the focal point of the offense, Lenhart might be a nice body to put up top, but he's out injured. Gordon's been traded away. A forward pairing of Wondolowski and Djalo with Perez Garcia behind might also cause some problems, but Djalo is listed as doubtful for the game with an injury he picked up playing Seattle in Santa Clara. The next forward on the roster is. . Billy Schuler? Exiled ex-Sounder Mike Fucito? Promising Homegrown rookie Tommy Thompson?

Their defense had been fairly reliable this season but was cut to shreds by Castillo's pace. The long term injury to Clarence Goodson has left them with a pairing of the very good Victor Bernardez and the erratic Jason Hernandez. It was Hernandez who acrobatically stopped Brad Evans' cross to Obafemi Martins for a tap-in in the previous match. But against Castillo he had no answers. If the Sounders can find a way to get Oba away from the physical domination of "Muma" Bernardez to pester Hernandez, they should find much more offensive joy than they did in that game.

There aren't likely to be any significant changes to the Sounders offense from the Levi's match, so they're going to have to find a better way to play with the players they have. Of course, playing in front of 40,000ish supporters will probably make a difference as well. Here's hoping it does, because this is one of the lighter games remaining on the Seattle schedule, and if they fail to get full points the Supporters Shield is going to start to slip out of reach.

Also the Heritage Cup is on the line and we retain it with a win. The main benefit of this is that we don't have to find it to return it.

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