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Scouting Report: Engineering for the Earthquakes

The Sounders’ bespoke roster heads to a land where fans don’t quite know what a shirt’s purpose actually is

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at San Jose Earthquakes Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Who You’ll Watch

After a brief two-game homestand, the Seattle Sounders head back out on the road for a three-game stretch while motocross ruins the turf. The first foes in the way are the San Jose Earthquakes and a roving pack of shirtless “ultras”. This will be the only trip to San Jose this year for the Sounders in regular season play. After starting the season with two wins the Quakes have lost their last two. They find themselves in fourth place of the Western Conference, just one point ahead of the Sounders.

The Sounders should have everyone available, outside of Brad Evans (muscle strain) and Aaron Kovar (groin surgery). Oniel Fisher is still listed as questionable with his left hamstring strain. San Jose will be without Quincy Amarikwa (knee surgery), Marvell Wynne (heart abnormality), Marc Pelosi (left knee strain), Harold Cummings (leg surgery), and Victor Bernardez (red card suspension). The injury report could change as the match reports. Bernardez will be out no matter what.

San Jose 2017 Record: 2-2-0, 4th in West

Top Scorer: Anibal Godoy, 2 goals

Top Assist leader: Jahmir Hyka and Chris Wondolowski, 2

Notable Roster Changes:

In: Jahmir Hyka, Jackson Yueill, Florian Jungwirth, Marco Urena

Out: Clarence Goodson, Bryan Meredith, Chad Barrett, Steven Lenhart, Innocent Emeghara

What to Watch

These are not your father’s Earthquakes, or something like that. The Bash Brothers days are finally and officially over with the departure of Lenhart to the 4th division of Japan. Dominic Kinnear has been remaking them into something respectable, and the team has finally given up its minor league hockey ambitions to return to Association Football.

The updated style of play is actually quite similar to that of the Sounders; while sample size is small, we can start to flesh out some trends. The team possesses and passes much more than previous (both teams are in the low-mid 400s for short passes per match), finds much of its play down the wings (around 39% per side for both teams), and sends in a high number of crosses per match (about 20 each). San Jose do do a better job of sending in shots from higher angles (only 53% of their shots have come from the middle); but then, with one of the best poachers in MLS history in Chris Wondolowski, why wouldn’t you just chuck it in there?

The updated formation, while often announced as a 4-4-2, plays as a 4-2-3-1 with a very narrow middle; its width, and pressure, comes primarily from a heavy reliance on aggressive fullback play and crosses. The midfield (Simon Dawkins, Wondolowski, and Tommy Thompson) and forward (newcomer Urena) aren’t set up to capitalize on crosses, and so the team has struggled a bit with finding it’s offensive identity. Defensively, new centerback Jungwirth has been a quality addition to pair with Bernardez for this system. There are, however, some issues...

Will Godoy and Fatai Alashe be able to support the defense? The 4-2-3-1 defense is reliant on the band of two supporting the centerbacks through the middle. A problem exists, however, when your back line plays like it’s a 4-2-3-1, and the band of two in your central midfield plays like it’s part of a flat four and doesn’t drop in support when needed. The disconnect between the midfield and and defensive lines for San Jose is a problem smart central attackers have exploited with success (NYCFC took turns living in what must be cheap rent-controlled space at this point they were there for so long, while Benny Feilhaber and Dom Dwyer’s heat maps look nearly identical as they took turns sitting in the opening all match).

Unfortunately for San Jose, Godoy and Alashe’s involvement has been a vital component of the attack, so it’s not as simple as just pushing them backward. Seattle’s intelligent band of three should have a great place to set up shop.

Attack the channels. The space left on the wings by San Jose’s narrow midfield isn’t really used as they’d hope, as they employ line-hugging outside backs for width. This leaves huge tracts of land in the channels to attack, particularly during transition as they scramble to cover. Part of this weakness stems from Dawkins, Wondolowski, and Thompson still working out the kinks of their partnership and will (at least Kinnear hopes) dissipate throughout the season.

The channels are the spaces Clint Dempsey loves to use, and, when Nicolas Lodeiro and Harry Shipp have swapped around, an inverted winger can find good direct attacking angles in. It’s also a great angle to send balls through to a charging Jordan Morris on an inside-out run. These are not good spaces to leave open against the Sounders. While the Sounders play will still register as wing-focused, it likely will have a bit of a more central flavor to attack this weakness.

Track Chris Wondolowski, but not too closely. This may seem like an obvious statement, given how much of a headache he’s been over the years, but his role has evolved in such a way that he now covers even more of the field than he used to. As the very-withdrawn striker/CAM in San Jose’s band of three he now roams far and wide, popping up in the corner to deliver a cross one minute, then sneaking back in the middle of the box the next to slide into the goal’s DMs. This sort of midfield role isn’t entirely new to him, and so far he’s taking to it with aplomb. It may lessen his goal-scoring numbers, but, if anything, it has increased his impact on the game overall.

San Jose’s attack has looked solid through the first four games and his evolution has been a major part of this. Though it hasn’t generated nearly as many shots since smarter offenses have pressured the defense, players like Godoy, Dawkins, and Thompson certainly have the ability to punish a defense that becomes too preoccupied with tracking the half-ghost, half-man, half-guy-who-missed-a-sitter-in-the-world-cup.

Expected Lineups

Seattle: Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Gustav Svensson Update: Oniel Fisher; Cristian Roldan, Osvaldo Alonso; Shipp, Dempsey, Lodeiro; Morris

San Jose: David Bingham; Nick Lima, ???, Jungwirth, Shaun Francis; Godoy, Alashe; Dawkins, Wondowlowski, Thompson; Urena

How to Watch

Date/Time: Saturday, April 8 at 7:30 pm

Venue: Avaya Stadium

Television: Q13 FOX

Radio: KIRO 97.3 (English), 1360 El Rey (Spanish)

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