Hope you liked the opening act of MLS 2021, because now things speed up. Due to the delayed start to the season, the schedule is compressed. The Seattle Sounders’ first midweek test is against a San Jose Earthquakes side that emphasizes high pressure and never slows down. Brian Schmetzer could rotate players, or he could just grind through the match. With a short roster, a full rotation will be tough either way.
This is the first match of the year on JOEtv/Amazon Prime (Wed May 12, 7:30 PM PT). The national audience won’t get to see this celebration of nearly 50 years of pro soccer within their communities, nor the top two teams in the Shield standings. Too bad for them. In 2021 Sounders at Earthquakes is must-see TV.
From Centerline Soccer, Alicia answers Three Questions.
SaH: Should we all just assume that Earthquake games are going to be chaotic, like that’s the norm?
CLS: Yes, absolutely. If anything, I think the games so far this year have been somewhat less chaotic than the default in the Matias Almeyda era, but it may be more that my brain has finally fully adjusted, I don’t know. But suffice it to say this team is not only comfortable with chaotic games, they actively create games that foster chaos. They know that many opponents can’t adjust and so if a “normal” opponent gets flustered having players press you deep in the corner, pinging passes across the defensive box at speed that is typically a big no-no at all levels of the game, and seeming to have its shape pulled apart constantly, that’s a feature, not a bug.
The big secret in all of this is that the Earthquakes absolutely must win the intensity battle if they are to win games. You can argue that in two of their games this season, they’ve done that handily, and in the other two, they were curiously out intensity-ed for large stretches. It nearly cost them last weekend at Real Salt Lake, but they brought on a triple change, pulled off a defender and just went hell for leather late, and it worked to flip the result and win the game. San Jose know there will be games in which they can’t match their opponent’s talent level but they can even things out if they can outwork their opponent. If more opponents cotton on to the need to play as high-energy as the Quakes, no matter the style used, then the Earthquakes’ strong start to the season probably won’t last.
SaH: For many young prospects last year was a forgotten year of development. Cade Cowell became one of the best attackers in the league. What is his secret?
CLS: Well I think it’s a combination of nature and nurture. Cowell turned pro at 15 and while he didn’t feature in MLS that season, he looked like a grown man already at that point, so he has the Alphonso Davies/LeBron James early bloomer quality that put him in a position to catch attention.
But I don’t want to say he’s merely a big body and that’s all. Last season he was precocious, and while he didn’t have a lot of production and mostly came off the bench, he got a slow run in MLS to adjust to the pro game and find his footing. It seems to have worked, as has his offseason work. He trained with teammate Chris Wondolowski on improving as a forward, and he also worked with another promising young pro, Sacramento Republic defender Hayden Sargis, so it sounds like he was locked in on taking a step up this year. So far, the proof is in the pudding. He has two goals and three assists, and he has clearly taken a step forward in both being clinical as a striker but also in setting up his teammates. It sounds like a joke, but if Cowell maintains this level all season, he’ll be like a “new signing” for a club that was looking to make more significant signings coming into the season, but in this case the Homegrown may be doing plenty to raise the attacking production already.
SaH: Since Chris Wondolowski only needs about 4 minutes and a half touch to score, is it time to think he could score 200 goals?
CLS: I think that would be pretty cool. Wondo scored the late brace to beat RSL last week and it was striking to hear from him after the game explain how relieved he was to have done that because he had two big mistakes to start the season. In the opening game, he missed a wide-open shot that would have tied the game against Houston, and the next week he clumsily raked an opponent’s ankle deep in the attacking zone on accident and got a straight red card. I don’t think anyone was necessarily thinking he was washed up from those plays, but perhaps the heroics would slow down a bit. Now, with a vintage Wondo performance on the books, I think we can shrug off calling time on his career.
The player did not say for sure he’ll retire at the end of the season, but that is the expectation. The good thing at this stage is that the team clearly still needs him and he can still produce. Both parties are benefitting from the union. As long as that continues, it could stretch on, but I’m treating this probably much like Wondo is and living in the moment with the guy, because he’s been so special to watch for so long now.
GK: Marcinkowski; Thompson, Jungwirth, Beason, M. Lopez; Remedi, Yueill; Espinoza, Chofís, Fierro; Cowell