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San Jose Scouting Report - The quest for long ball supremacy

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Sounders face the Earthquakes for a second time this year, expect to see the long ball and Wondolowski not at striker.

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

San Jose is sitting in 8th in the Western Conference with 19 points in 14 games and only two points in their last three games, but do not think they'll be a push over this weekend. San Jose has been the thorn in our side the past two years with the Sounders going 2-1-2 (W-D-L) over the past five games with a depressing result in a 3-2 loss at CenturyLink earlier this year.

Dominic Kinnear has this team playing better football than they have in the past but they are all over the place. After beating the Sounders, they barely beat Chicago, blew out Columbus, and shocked Vancouver. At the same time, they've taken only one point from six against Real Salt Lake and lost all shape against Toronto. They show up for big games and tend to be a pesky side when playing in Seattle but the hope is that their luck has run out.

Players to Watch
Chris Wondolowski Always dangerous. Hungry goal scorer. Leads with eight goals and is tasked with putting the team on his back every match.
Matias Perez Garcia The creative one. Wondo may put the team on his back but he is not creative, the Argentine Garcia is. He's accurate with the long ball and dangerous with set pieces. But with Wondo playing CM, he has to play more defensive than he is used to and can be beat.
Victor Bernandez A very physical presence. He'll cut out the long ball but can be beat with good through balls. No yellows this year, a surprise, but one red. He can be baited and forced into a bad challenge and is most likely to give up a free kick in Pappa/Mears zones. If he's on, it could be a shutout for SJ. If he's off, there's no telling how many we could score.

Besides being a highly physical side, San Jose does a pretty job at winning and scoring on set pieces. Of their 14 goals this season, seven have set pieces or PKs. Compare this to the Sounders who only have two of 23 goals from these kicks. San Jose's strength this season has been drawing and scoring on these opportunities. The Sounders have given up three of their 11 goals this season from set pieces and one from a PK but with the Sounders likely having to play without Dempsey and potentially Martins, expect a few more ball winners, like Andy Rose, to be on the field to limit this advantage for SJ.

Outside of hoping to earn a set piece within striking distance San Jose tends to attack via the long ball. They still have the tendency to knock it down field for a striker, Adam Jahn, or for Sanna Nyassi to chase down. In their last three games, they've averaged 72 long balls a match, which equates to about one in every five passes is a long ball for the 'Quakes. San Jose was more successful with this strategy with Mark Sherrod in the lineup but after accidentally bumping Dan Kennedy with his cleats last game, after his appeal failed he'll server his suspension this weekend. In games with Sherrod the team plays a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1 but without him they've slid to a 4-3-3.

The 4-3-3 of San Jose is a interesting beast to say the least. The club is 2-2-3 with five goals scored and eight conceded. It typically features Shea Salinas out left as a winger, who's expected to run out to long balls and hit Jahn with a cross. His lack of speed on the sideline though tends to mean the club will attack down the right with Nyassi. By this point you are wondering how did we get this far without talking about Chris Wondolowski, well easily, he isn't the poacher anymore. He's moved to play a RCM/RAM role. He collects the ball in his own half and dribbles as far as he can before hitting a short pass to one of the other CMs, like Matias Perez Garcia, to launch a long ball. Of Wondo's eight goals this season, three are from the spot and one from a set piece. He is not the goal scoring threat when it comes to poaching goals as he has in the past. He is the talisman for the attack and is the only player with more than one goal for San Jose in 2015 but his impact is less in front of goal and more in playing the ball forward though no one else can finish. This leaves Perez to be in charge of crosses when Salinas cuts inside and in charge of playing the long ball, he averages almost six a match. Perez is fairly dangerous on set pieces as well.

San Jose will be without Mark Sherrod as well as JJ Koval, who is also suspended for a "serious foul play" against FC Dallas. Innocent Emeghara, arguably one of the fastest strikers in MLS, is out with a torn meniscus still while Steven "Pineapple Head" Lenhart is out after having knee surgery this season. The club also had to go 120 minutes and penalties to dispose USL side Sacramento Republic. Only a few starters, Chris Wondolowski, Marvell Wynne, and Khari Stephenson started. Victor Bernandez played 75 minutes as a halftime sub for Ty Harden, and Tommy Thompson is back with the squad coming in at the half as well.

Expect San Jose to roll out in their 4-3-3 and look to get Nyassi in behind against Dylan Remick. They'll also play through the middle with Wondolowski creating a matchup that last time burned Brad Evans as he had to decide when to step up. Since the teams meet in week 2, Evans has vastly improved his decision making and Ozzie Alonso has come back (trained Thursday), neutralizing this attacking plan. San Jose will likely bunker in with Salinas sliding back to prevent Mears from bombing forward, playing more like a 4-4-2 with Wondo on top of a tight diamond. If they need goals they'll likely go to Jean-Baptiste Pierrazi. Tommy Thompson, or Cordell Cato off the bench and switch to a 4-1-4-1 or more traditional 4-4-2.

On a final sidenote, the last MLS match for each side was against Dallas in their home stadiums, San Jose drew nil-nil while the Sounders ended routing the Texan side 3-0.