Saturday night the barely a rivalry between Seattle Sounders FC and the San Jose Earthquakes resumes. San Jose comes to Seattle with a much changed roster and four former Sounders on the roster. While still most defined by Chris Wondolowski they have two other DPs, Tommy Thompson is a rising star and new coach Dom Kinnear is still figuring out how to resuscitate the once great organization.
Robert from CenterLineSoccer answers three questions to get your read for tonight's match.
SaH: San Jose splashed the cash and has three DPs opening up that beautiful new stadium. Which of Wondo, MPG and Innocent will be the key to another Playoff appearance?
CLS: Without a doubt, the Earthquakes will need to see a complete effort from Matias Perez Garcia if they hope to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs. The diminutive Argentine midfielder was a non-factor last season after suffering an injury shortly after signing as the third DP in Quakes history, and his return to the lineup was well past the point that they had been eliminated from the postseason chase. But this year, after having a full preseason to adjust to new head coach Dominic Kinnear, MPG has his sights set on living up to his lofty contract. He will play behind the forward line of Chris Wondolowski and Innocent Emeghara, providing the necessary spark in the middle of the field to complement the sideline runs of Shea Salinas and Sanna Nyassi. MPG is not a true attacking midfielder -- he likes to drift out wide on the right and approach the attacking third from the channels -- but he will be a dead-ball specialist for San Jose, delivering free kicks and corner kicks for the forwards. If Perez Garcia does his job, both Wondo and Emeghara will be among the goal-scoring leaders in MLS this season and the Quakes will return to the playoffs for the first time since winning the Supporters' Shield in 2012.
SaH: Reader Daryl Allen (via Sounder at Heart's Facebook page) wants to know what Tommy Thompson's role on the 2015 Earthquakes is.
CLS: Tommy Thompson is the real deal in the San Jose midfield, so much so that he is also an important part of the U.S men's national team U-20 squad that will participate in the World Cup this summer. The problem for the Earthquakes is that his international duty opportunity will greatly cut into the time he is available to his club, at least until the midway point in the MLS season. Kinnear has mentioned on more than one occasion that he will not look to Thompson for too many minutes in the early going. Instead, the 19-year old will play a role off the bench as a late game catalyst, possibly spelling Perez Garcia as a right-sided midfielder. Thompson may have earned his first MLS start for the Quakes at Seattle, but it is very unlikely that he will make a repeat start at CenturyLink Field this weekend.
SaH; Many other readers asked about the trio of speedsters/former Sounders. What are the roles of Nyassi, Cato and Fucito? How many travel?
aside: former Sounder Bryan Meredith is the 'Quakes' backup keeper.
CLS: Of the three former Sounders, Nyassi is the most likely to see minutes this weekend. After a preseason that Wondolowski rated the best on the team, Nyassi has made the right midfielder position his own. Both active on offense and defense, Nyassi pairs well with Marvell Wynne on the right sideline, as the speedy duo has been tasked with unsettling opposing defenses. The Earthquakes have shown a propensity to overload the right, often at the expense of the left side tandem of Salinas and Shaun Francis, and that pattern is expected to continue. Cordell Cato, who saw an increasing role with the Quakes in 2014 under the tutelage of former head coach Mark Watson, is stationed on the second team for the time being. Mike Fucito, still the most ripped player on the team, and maybe in the entire Quakes organization, will be a fourth choice forward behind Wondolowski, Emeghara, and third-year target man Adam Jahn.
Key Absences: Steven Lenhart continues to work himself back from a knee problem that has caused him issues prior and through the preseason. Clarence Goodson is still gaining full fitness and health after a foot injury sidelined him for the second half of 2014; Portuguese center back Paulo Renato will fill the U.S. international's boots in the meantime. Veteran outside back Jordan Stewart is also questionable, but Francis has stepped in nicely to replace the Englishman.
Projected Lineup: David Bingham, now in his fifth year, will play in goal and captain a defense that includes Wynne, Honduran international center back Victor Bernardez, Renato, and Francis. The midfield is expected to consist of Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi as the chief defensive shield, with three of Perez Garcia, second-year Stanford alum JJ Koval, Salinas, and Nyassi filling in across the width of the field. Wondolowski will definitely start, while Emeghara, who made a late appearance in the Quakes season opening 1-0 loss at FC Dallas last weekend, should play in advanced role at the top of the San Jose formation. If Emeghara is judged not ready to start, MPG will slide into the withdrawn forward role and make room for the odd man out in the midfield possibilities. Jahn and rookie Fatai Alashe are good bets to be two of the three substitutions that Kinnear employs in the second half.
Sounders projected lineup: Frei; Gonzalez, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Neagle, Pineda, Azira, Pappa; Dempsey, Martins
The reverse will return next week.