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Scouting Report: Dampening the San Jose Earthquakes

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Do it right, and they’ll need Dionne Warwick to tell them how to get back home

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at San Jose Earthquakes John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Who You’ll Watch

So much for the relaxation of the Gold Cup break. The Sounders will play their second game in four days when they host the San Jose Earthquakes Sunday night. This is the final regular season meeting between the two.

Last time these two faced off in MLS action, back in April, San Jose squeaked by with one point after Chris Wondolowski (who else) did not sky the ball over the goal like he did against Belgium and scored the tying goal in second half stoppage time. They also just so happen to be the team that knocked us out of the Open Cup at the end of June.

San Jose currently sits in seventh place of the Western Conference (26 points in 20 games played; 1.3 ppg) while the Sounders sits in sixth place (27 points in 20 games played; 1.35 ppg). Both teams are coming off a midweek game: San Jose lost on the road to the New York Red Bulls 5-1 while the Sounders came from three goals down to defeat D.C. United 4-3.

Current Form

San Jose

Last Five: D-W-W-L-L; seven goals scored with 11 conceded

Top Scorer: Wondolowski, eight goals

Top Assist Leader: Wondolowski, five assists

Seattle

Last Five: L-D-D-W-W; 11 goals scored with nine conceded

Top Scorer: Will Bruin and Clint Dempsey, seven goals

Top Assist Leader: Joevin Jones, eight assists

Absences: Injury, international duty, suspension

San Jose

Marvell Wynne (heart abnormality), Marc Pelosi (left knee injury), Harold Cummings (leg surgery), and Kip Colvey (knee injury) are all listed as out on MLS’ injury report. Fatai Alashe (knee injury), Quincy Amarikwa (knee surgery), and Jackson Yueill (head injury) are all listed as questionable. Marco Urena is on international duty with Costa Rica for the Gold Cup.

Seattle

Osvaldo Alonso (left MCL sprain) is the lone player listed as out. Stefan Frei (right hip flexor strain), Nouhou (left shoulder dislocation), and Henry Wingo (right ankle sprain) are all listed as questionable. Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Oniel Fisher are with their respective international teams for the Gold Cup. Nicolas Lodeiro is suspended for this game due to his red card he received against United.

What to Watch

It’s tough to know, or even guess, what we’ll see from the kinda-new-look Quakes. The last meeting between these two came just days after a surprise coaching change. In the three MLS matches since, results have gone from good (a 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy that was close only in score), to bad (a 4-2 loss to Atlanta United that featured two red cards to Quakes starters), to really bad (a 5-1 beatdown at the hands of New York Red Bulls). It’s certainly not the start Chris Leitch would have hoped for.

It’s hard to read too much into these, however. The last two have come sans Anibal Godoy, whose work at defensive midfielder has been key for them when things have worked. Wednesday’s drubbing by NYRB was additionally missing starting right-back Kofie Sarkodie and center-back Victor Bernardez from defense as well due to suspension.

Sarkodie and Bernardez will definitely be back to shore up the back line, and new signing Valeri Kazaishvili will undoubtedly play a role as well after subbing in at half on Wednesday.

Leitch has run out a different formation each match, and seems to ascribe to the school of total formational flexibility aimed at negating an opponent’s strength. He hasn’t had a consistent stable of players to choose from, though; hard to tell if this is just a forced hand. He has consistently stuck to a two forward set, and looks to be trying to find a way to push Wondolowski back upfield into a pure striker role.

Can Seattle stay organized on defense? There’s not much more to say about this than there was in previewing Wednesday’s match, but - after the Three Stooges showed up for the first half against DC United - it takes on extra importance here. Nobody exploits a defense’s spacing issues like Wondolowski, and there’s a clear focus for San Jose on going hard on the counter.

Even in their dominating 2-1 victory over the Galaxy, they spent about 17% of their passes on long balls, almost all of them direct. In this sense, they’re like a more organized, and more talented, DC United. They’re more wing oriented and don’t possess a Luciano Acosta analogue, but Danny Hoesen and Kazaishvili provide their own kind of dangers in speed and service. If these two are allowed to get a head of steam on a regular basis it could be another long evening.

Seattle cannot afford a repeat of Wednesday’s opening act if they hope to come away with a result.

Who fills Nico Lodeiro’s shoes? And what does a team that struggles to find ideas do without its most active player? Without anyone who can even come close to replicating Lodeiro’s movement, Seattle will need multiple players to step up their offensive contributions.

It seems most likely that Cristian Roldan will step forward a bit to fill the forward-focused midfield spot. It’s not his best spot, but he’s played as a more attack-oriented MF in his past, and is the best option the team has for the match. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Nouhou get a start with the hope that pushing Joevin Jones forward full-time helps generate a more stable offense. For fitness reasons its unlikely we see both Kelvin Leerdam and Brad Evans start; Aaron Kovar likely will get a chance to improve on his Wednesday performance.

In short, it won’t be particularly different from Wednesday, and that means a number of players are going to need to step their game up.

Can Seattle figure out how to actually attack from the start? The answer, hopefully, is yes, but will require a shift in player decision-making philosophy. It will ask them to play a more direct game that abandons the oh-so-familiar zero-risk horseshoe ball movement. Playing an ultra-defensive possession game does not lend itself to chance creation.

It’s no coincidence that the Sounders offense became more threatening at the same time DC United began to control portions of the match. Higher risk attacks result in more turnovers, and thus more opponent possession, but also ultimately provide better opportunities if they come off.

There are defensive advantages to this as well. It offers the opportunity to keep outside backs more honest, and to reduce the chance for a single pass to carve through all lines by letting the field breathe. This last bit, in particular, is nice if you have CBs who aren’t the fleetest of foot (or just find themselves too far upfield too often).

With another direct-attacking opponent, there will be plenty of opportunity to use both of tactics. A strong start followed by a possession-based defense would be a fun change of pace.

How to Watch

Date/Time: Sunday, July 23 7:30 PM

Venue: CenturyLink Field

Television: JOEtv; Univision-Seattle

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