Match previews

Match preview: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Philadelphia Union

Photo: Daniel Studio

Who: San Jose Earthquakes (6th place, 32 points, 9-10-5) vs. Philadelphia Union (9th place, 29 points, 8-11-5)
What: 2017 regular season
Where: Avaya Stadium, San Jose, Ca.
When: Saturday, August 19 at 10:30 pm
Watch: TCN, MLS Live
Whistle: Ted Unkel; Mike Rottersman, Jeffery Hosking; Younes Marrakchi VAR: Kevin Stott

The Union are a bad team.

Good teams aren’t good just every other week. They don’t lose to bad teams as often as they beat them. They don’t vanish at home during vital matches while their playoff hopes slip away. Simply, good teams win and win often.

But the season isn’t over.

The Union are floating in a punctured life raft, but there’s one flare left in the chamber. If they are going to pull the trigger, it needs to be now. Any longer and the team will be dead in the water.

Any turnaround will have to start this Saturday as Philadelphia travel to the West Coast to take on San Jose. While the Earthquakes may not be a good team themselves, they are a great team at Avaya Stadium.

The California club is coming off a 3-0 loss in Houston, but they have won their last four home matches. More so, they’ve only lost one of their 12 contests in San Jose.

It’s been enough to see the Earthquakes cling to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but it belies some of the side’s struggles. Only D.C. United, Minnesota United, and Real Salt Lake have worse goal differentials than San Jose’s -12 this year.

Scouting report: San Jose Earthquakes

Attacking questions

Projected Earthquakes lineup

A lot of San Jose’s struggles has stemmed from an impotent attack. Their fourth-worst goal differential corresponds to their 26 goals, fourth fewest in the league. It cost MLS legend Dom Kinnear his job and led to the appointment of new head coach Chris Leitch.

Forward Chris Wondolowski still leads the team from the front. The 34-year-old paces his club with nine goals. San Jose’s issue is secondary scoring. No other player has more than three goals.

It’s been disappointing for the club who scoured the globe to bring in fresh attacking talent. Four new attackers from Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Georgia, and Albania were added this season to improve 2016’s worst offensive squad.

Marco Ureña, the Costa Rican, and Danny Hoesen, the Dutchman, have combined for only five goals. Jahmir Hyka, from Albania, has had some success as the No. 10. He is a very technical player and can challenge any defender 1-v-1. Statistically, his three goals and four assists are decent.

San Jose’s hopes, however, may now rest on the shoulders of their recently acquired designated player. Valeri Qazaishvili is what Leitch considers a “second striker.” The Georgian was a midseason signing from Dutch side SBV Vitesse, but recently helped Legia Warsaw win Poland’s league championship while on loan.

The 24-year-old has only appeared as a substitute in four matches so far, but he is a dangerous talent who will be starting soon enough.

An “odd” back line

Leitch is one of the numerous MLS coaches who have implemented a three-man back line this season. He has used a 3-5-2 formation in his last three home matches, all wins.

San Jose will be without regular starter Andrés Imperiale this week, but they can still rely on 35-year-old Honduran Victor Bernardez to anchor the defense. He is a physically imposing defender, but his speed is suspect in a “back three.”

Flanking the center back will be newcomers Florian Jungwirth from Germany and Francois Affolter from Switzerland. Jungwirth has already contributed two goals from the back in his first season with the club, and Affolter made his first start last week in Houston after being acquired in July.

On the right wing will be rookie Nick Lima, who has impressed in his first season with the club. Former Union-man Shea Salinas, making the change from midfield, will be on the left.

  • Injury report: Out – Harold Cummings (D, leg surgery), Marc Pelosi (M, left knee injury)
  • Suspensions: Andrés Imperiale (yellow card accumulation)

Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

Author’s note: Ilsinho, Oguchi Onyewu, and Andre Blake are likely to miss this contest. Expect Roland Alberg, Joshua Yaro, and John McCarthy to fill in.

Offensively offensive

Projected Union lineup

Not counting last weekend, the Union have been a quality side at home. Why are they sitting so low in the standings? They’ve been abysmal on the road.

Philadelphia are 1-7-3 as visitors this season, with their sole win coming against MLS-worst D.C. United. It doesn’t take much to see why they’ve struggled so much on the road.

In those 11 games, the Union have only scored nine goals. Five of those came in trips to RFK Stadium. Excluding the penalty in Kansas City, Philadelphia has only tallied three goals in open play against the nine teams not located in the Nation’s capital.

The silver lining (and our key matchup)

But there is hope, even if it’s just a flicker.

The Union have faced a three-man back line three times this season, once against Toronto and twice against Columbus, and have scored five times.

While Philadelphia had one of their worst performances in their first meeting with the Crew, the second match was an offensive explosion (albeit one aided by red cards.) The Union registered 27 shots and three goals.

What changed?

Philadelphia won the fight for width, pulling a Columbus side without much familiarity with the 3-4-2-1 out of position. While San Jose have had success with their 3-5-2, they’ve also only played three games in the system. If the Union win the battle for space out wide, it should expose the Earthquake’s faults (sorry couldn’t resist.)

So how can they do this? Speed.

It might be too much to ask for head coach Jim Curtin to play his offensively-minded fullbacks on the road. Fabinho and Keegan Rosenberry might have to wait for injuries or the apocalypse.

What he can do is replace Chris Pontius with Marcus Epps. With Epps and Fafa Picault out wide, the Union will have all the pace they need to exploit the space behind Lima and Salinas. Jungwirth and Affolter will drift out of position, and Bernardez will be isolated in the center of the pitch.

  • Injury report: Out – Maurice Edu (M, left ankle/left tibia surgery), Fabian Herbers (F, sports hernia surgery); Questionable – Andre Blake (GK, right hand laceration
  • Suspensions: None.
Players to Watch: Aníbal Godoy/Darwin Cerén

One of Leitch’s main challenges with sparking his attack is the sacrifice of his midfield. Aníbal Godoy is a fiery midfielder who is excellent at shielding his defense while providing the occasional strike of lightning in the final third. Darwin Cerén is the skilled holding midfielder who ranges all over and picks out the smart passes to spring his team forward. If both cannot fit in Leitch’s 11, the Union may be better for it.

Prediction: San Jose Earthquakes 0-0 Philadelphia Union

The Union don’t score on the road, and San Jose doesn’t really score at all. It might be an interesting tactical battle, but at 10:30 on a Saturday night, you might rue staying up to watch this.

 

8 Comments

  1. I thought Ilsinho and Gooch were out for Saturday?

    • Nick Fishman says:

      More than likely they will be and the same with Blake. I didn’t catch the news until after the post was written.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    I’m thinking I’d likely rue watching it at any time, but that’s not going to stop me from watching it anyway.

  3. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Start Simpson up top with CJ. But they never will. They never will.

    • We know that organization template allows for switching a center back up to striker in the last several minutes of a losing game, because Bethlehem has done so several times, most recently with Hugh Roberts last night. But Auston Trusty has had several brief episodes this year and last as captain of a three man back line, and he has pace sufficient to risk it.

  4. Good news everyone!
    .
    Sebastian Letoux was officially let go by DC United today – we can get him fo free!
    .
    Seriously though, I almost kind of expect him to be part of the organization in some capacity since his family is here.

  5. Would love Seba back. Could have used him few months ago.

  6. Thompson will start at the CAM spot. He’s done well at home lately and has the ability to take players on 1v1. He also has pace. San Jose has improved with the acquisitions of Vako and Affolter.

    I’d be surprised if Epps starts. Need Pontius’s experience to pin Salinas back and not get beat behind. Fafa and Lima will be an exciting matchup.

    This will be a difficult game. San Jose has improved with the acquisitions of Vako and Affolter. Don’t let the Houston game fool you…they played 120 minutes of Open Cup soccer 3 days earlier.

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