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Sounders vs San Jose Earthquakes: Three Questions

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Saturday's match is at 7:30 PM Pacific with JOEtv carrying it in the Puget Sound.

Mike Russell

Avaya Stadium is the new home for the San Jose Earthquakes. The soccer-specific-stadium is larger than Buck Shaw, but still among the smallest in MLS. Seattle Sounders FC will head there for the first time, trying to continue their hot streak from late August and charge back up the standings. Seattle is 3-9-1 -7 on the road. San Jose is 6-3-3 +4 at home.

First Assistant Brian Schmetzer will be the coach as Sigi Schmid is not traveling after the health issue from last week.

Robert from CenterLineSoccer answers Three Questions.

SaH: The four-match winning streak started shortly after Godoy joined the squad. How's his insertion changed the team? Will he play?

CLS: At the time of his signing, most supporters scratched their heads and asked, "Why another defensive midfielder?" After all, the Earthquakes had a very capable rookie and U-23 international, Fatai Alashe, playing that role very well. It was the attacking corps that needed reinforcements, was the popular opinion.

But the offensive failings were not solely a product of anemic forward play; rather, it was how the Quakes attack would get started in the first place. Partnering Alashe in midfield was designated player Matias Perez Garcia, a capable midfielder with the ball at his feet, but one suited more to a winger role than in the center of the attack. Perez Garcia was also not supporting the defensive too much, and Chris Wondolowski found himself playing deeper in the formation to ameliorate that shortcoming. The knock-on effect was that the Earthquakes often started with possession deep in their own half, and they found it very difficult to carry that possession successfully into the attacking third.

Enter Godoy, who has slipped into a shielding role above the two center backs and provided another stopper in the midfield. Coupled with the quickly improving play of former Liverpool youth player and U-23 international Marc Pelosi, the impact of Godoy on the field has been massive. With more possession starting near the center line, the Earthquakes have been able to transition into the attack much faster and, as a result, have created many more scoring opportunities. The defensive line has been able to advance too, allowing the outside backs to take chances on overlapping runs. And opponents? They are kept away from goal for the most part, helping the Quakes to a string of unprecedented clean sheets.

Godoy has been a game-changer for the Earthquakes simply by allowing what was already a decent attacking unit to play in a position where they can attack.

SaH: Fatai Alashe should be on a short list as a Rookie of the Year. What's been most impressive about his play this season?

CLS: Alashe was thrust into a starters role from the moment he gained his health following an offseason injury. No preseason for Alashe, as he had to wait patiently to take the field, but already in head coach Dominic Kinnear's mind, given that he had already traded away stalwart Sam Cronin to the Colorado Rapids, was that the Michigan State product would feature in his line-up. And when he did finally take the field, he scored the first goal for the Earthquakes at their new Avaya Stadium (a moment that will be commemorated at Saturday's game with a Fatai Alashe bobblehead giveaway).

No sooner had Alashe wrested control of the deep central midfielder role for San Jose was he called to international duty by Andi Herzog and the U-23s. It was the first international call-up at any level for the rookie, and he impressed on that stage as well. Back in San Jose, Alashe continued his solid run of form, often put in position to shadow the attacking midfielder of the opponents' teams -- the shining stars of MLS -- but the rookie always came through with worthy performances.

The introduction of Godoy and Pelosi this summer has put a bit of heat on Alashe, and his role in the starting eleven is no longer a given. In their previous game, a dispassionate 2-1 loss to lowly Philadelphia -- a game both Godoy and Pelosi missed while on international duty -- Alashe paired with Perez Garcia and did not look quite as assertive as he had previously in the season. Sure, he is coming off a leg injury, but the same intensity in challenges that he displayed back in the spring was not there. Perhaps he is hitting the "rookie wall?" Kinnear has not stated publicly who will start against the Sounders on Saturday, but the body of recent evidence suggests Alashe's name is not written in pen in the line up.

SaH: If Torres and Marshall can shutdown the air attack, what is the Earthquakes backup plan to create goals?

CLS: The air attack has become almost an afterthought for the Quakes during their recent run of form. Play has certainly been channeled up the wings, with Shea Salinas playing at a Best XI level, but around the box San Jose is trying a lot of give-and-go moves as well as direct dribbling attacks. The big change for the Quakes? Quincy Time.

Quincy Amarikwa, drafted by San Jose in 2009 before being shipped off the next season and having bounced around the league since then, returned to the Earthquakes this summer and has immediately made his presence known. He is fast and physical as a point forward, go in the air when he needs to be, but even better using his body to keep away defenders when he has the ball at his feet. His influence on the San Jose attack has been obvious: Fewer giveaways on long balls that lead to extra seconds of possession. Now, coupled with Godoy's growing contributions in midfield, Amarikwa sees more of the ball in the attacking third, and his teammates are not rushing to join him like in games past. Notably, Wondolowski finds himself spending less time on his own side of the center line, and he has been on a bit of a scoring streak as a result.

Set pieces used to define San Jose, but the offense is so much more than that today. Seattle's defenders will need to look to their feet as well as their heads when they take on the Quakes this Saturday if they want to keep the home side off the scoreboard.

There is no reverse

Predicted Lineup for Sounders: Frei; Fisher, Torres, Marshall, Mears; Ivanschitz, Friberg, Evans, Valdez; Dempsey, Martins