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Three questions with Earthquakes blog Center Line Soccer

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Get to know tonight’s opponent a bit better.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes Training Handout Photo-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The San Jose Earthquakes are one of those teams who are hard to get a handle on even in normal times. They play a man-marking style employed by no one else in the league, have a lot of players you’ve probably never heard of and were actually the last team in the league to be cleared to resume training after the coronavirus shutdown. But if anyone knows what’s going on there, it’s Center Line Soccer, SB Nation’s Earthquakes blog.

I exchanged questions with Alicia Rodriguez, who’s currently running the blog, to get a better idea of what to expect from tonight’s opponent.

How has the late start vs. early arrival in Florida affected the Earthquakes preparedness for the tournament?

The players have really touted the benefits of arriving to Florida first, and say having the time to settle in and do a proper training camp set-up makes them confident. In speaking to multiple players, they’re high on the experience in Orlando so far.

However, Matias Almeyda spent his pregame press conference Thursday saying repeatedly that 12 days of full team training isn’t enough time. I don’t think he’s preparing an excuse here — I agree with him that getting less than two weeks to fully prepare for games is very much not ideal. While I think all teams are dealing with less-than-ideal circumstances with this whole MLS is Back Tournament, I think the fact that the Earthquakes were the last team in the league to get clearance to train individually in their home market, with other teams being able to train as a team for weeks already, puts them at major risk. Ironically, that’s probably helped them to avoid contracting coronavirus so far, but in soccer terms there’s a sky-high risk for general fatigue and injuries in Orlando.

Should we expect the Earthquakes to use their vaunted man-marking system?

The Earthquakes will definitely use Almeyda’s man-marking system, and I think one of the reasons they have been talked up nationally in the run-up to the tournament is that the team’s unsual style is built upon chaos, team cohesion and problem-solving. There’s no question San Jose’s roster is nowhere near the best in MLS, but the unpredictable conditions of playing a neutral-site tournament, on short prep, and during a pandemic probably suits their style. I wouldn’t expect beautiful soccer, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if the Earthquakes suffer through games and make their opponents do the same, and get out of the group. From there, who knows?

Who’s a player we should be watching?

Cristian Espinoza is the Argentine attacker who is expected to make a step up after the Quakes broke their transfer record to bring him in permanently after a year on loan. So if he’s playing well San Jose probably has a pretty good shot in each game. For a deeper cut, I’m not sure if he’ll play against the Sounders but 16-year-old Cade Cowell came off the bench in garbage time in the Earthquakes’ last game and put together a promising MLS debut. Despite his age, he’s got the body of a fully-grown man, and he could be a substitute who turns some heads if he finds form in a hurry.

Editor’s note: We’ll link our answers to their questions once they post them.