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Three questions: Sounders at Earthquakes

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Alicia from Center Line Soccer stops by for a lovely chat

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

The Seattle Sounders got some unexpected rest this week as their game with the Colorado Rapids was postponed because of Colorado’s ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The Sounders should be well-rested as they travel to San Jose to take on the Earthquakes on Sunday. The ‘Quakes are coming off a 4-0 win against the LA Galaxy midweek. I asked Alicia Rodriguez of Center Line Soccer some questions about the Earthquakes.

Sounder at Heart: The month of September was wild for San Jose. Four losses with allowing more than 5 goals each game, including the 7-1 loss. A lot of teams would buckle and fold with results like that, including probably firing their coach. Since then, there’s been four wins out of five and you just made the Galaxy look silly. What’s been the biggest change?

Center Line Soccer: It’s hard to say what exactly has changed, since teams generally don’t hit a skid that bad and come out of it. To me, it’s two factors — one tangible, the other more intangible.

Chris Wondolowski told reporters after Wednesday’s win over the Galaxy that the team fixed their press and figured out how to get back in rhythm on that front. He said that “...when our defensive pressure became correct, we win the ball in better areas. When you do that, you’re able to create more opportunities, you’re able to possess the ball in their half and be able to open up the defense and also to wear them down.” (From this story). So the defensive system, which is the tactical linchpin for the club, needed some kind of reset or something and then they did it and it worked. It’s notable when the Quakes were at their nadir, the response from Wondolowski and the rest of the club was, “We need to do what we do *more*,” not to change the system itself.

The other change is that San Jose found their energy again. When they were struggling, they couldn’t put their imprint on games and they just didn’t look like they could match their opponents. For a team that knows they have a talent gap with most opponents, energy is the factor that gives them any chance at all. And so when the energy returned, they started picking up results again. It really is intangible, but somehow the mantra to work harder got them out of their rut, and it’s pretty remarkable.

SAH: What’s most impressed me about the Quakes in the last month is their goal scoring by committee. Is that by design? Is that Matias Almeyda’s system at its best?

CLS: I think any team would love to have a big-time scorer, but Almeyda doesn’t seem overly concerned about feeding a particular player goals, and since Wondolowski has come off his Golden Boot days the Earthquakes have always been a team built on sharing the load, regardless of coach.

But I do think this team is far more egalitarian in their approach when it comes to goals than most teams. They succeed when they shoot in volume and pretty much every player who thinks he’s in range is given the green light to shoot. Of late, the interesting trend has been goals scored by fullbacks — Marcos Lopez, Paul Marie, Tommy Thompson and Nick Lima have scored in the last five games. Lima told reporters that’s less a specific tactical instruction and just players finding an opening and taking advantage of it. But it does highlight that the Earthquakes aren’t a team where you can man-mark the star and pretty much choke off the attack, since there is no dominant star.

SAH: Half a month left in the season and you’re two points above the playoff line. What does a “good” season look like for San Jose in 2020?

CLS: Making the playoffs is the minimum goal and at this point certainly attainable, although it’s likely to be a mad dash to the finish. Personally, I think qualifying for the playoffs and winning a postseason game would be a reasonable goal to aim for among the Earthquakes, especially considering they’ve been counted out nationally most of the year. And I think that would show progress is being made under Almeyda, and with some real spending behind the squad, hopefully, in the offseason, they could really push to climb the standings in his third season here. We’ll see.

Our exchange about the Sounders can be found here.