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Preview: Union vs San Jose Earthquakes

What: Union vs San Jose Earthquakes

When: 7:00pm ET

Where: PPL Park

Records: Philadelphia: 6-2-3 (1-1-1 at home); San Jose: 5-1-1 (2-0-1 away)

Something you didn’t expect to hear a month ago: Look out, here come the Quakes.

Yet the Union will do well to heed this warning, because San Jose is on top of the west and it’s not a fluke.

A team is in sync when they can take up different formations, play different styles, and adjust to changes in the flow of a game without losing a clear sense of how to move forward when the opportunity presents itself. San Jose has been one team at home and another on the road. They have been one team when behind and another when ahead. The constant is that they have always been dangerous.

The Union, by contrast, are not quite in sync. But they are organized. To separate the two terms: In sync means you are organized and you can flow forward and be threatening, then quickly find your shape again. Organized means you have good shape, know your roles, but struggle to turn that defensive quality into coherent offensive pressure.

There is one qualifier here. It’s a lot easier to look in sync when you have an in-form goalscorer.

Wondo what we do with him

Chris Wondolowski is terrible for MLS. Because he proves that the league’s defenses rely more on consistent positioning than intelligent reactionary play. Sneaking around to find holes, Wondolowski plays the game like a running back. He finds the best space and hopes that his teammates find him. This is different from the way many of the league’s strikers operate. The Alejandro Morenos, Brian Chings and – let’s say – Lionard Pajoys prefer to pick a center back to attack and remain in his vicinity, making it easier for teammates to guess where they’ll be.

Wondo’s game requires his teammates to take an extra touch sometimes and check on his whereabouts. It’s something the Union learned to do with Sebastien Le Toux running the line up front. They learned to play the other way when Carlos Ruiz was sitting as a much more typical target man during his brief and tumultuous stay in 2011.

Luckily, Philadelphia is not one of those defenses that relies on positioning to make up for average intelligence. Carlos Valdes and Danny Califf can organize or operate in what appears to be a chaotic environment, with Valdes zipping off upfield. They rely on Brian Carroll to push play to the outside, then zone out the box with remarkable success given Philly’s size.

There will be some question marks in the Union’s back four, however. Gabriel Farfan, suspended for innocuously shattering a shinguard, will be replaced by either Porfirio Lopez or Sheanon Williams. Lopez has been an unmitigated disaster thus far. It’s rare to see a member of the back four pulled off at halftime unless it’s a purely tactical move. And while there were clear tactical benefits to getting Michael Farfan on the field against Vancouver… the clear motivator behind the move was getting Lopez off.

Putting The Sheanomenon on the left is intriguing because he has the ability to get forward and pin back San Jose’s most dangerous crosser, Steven Beitashour. The right back has been a huge weapon for the Quakes and shutting down the crossing game is essential for Philly’s success on Saturday.

In the end, choosing a back four should be easy for Nowak and Hackworth. Does Raymon Gaddis deserve to keep his place? Yes. Should Sheanon Williams or Porfirio Lopez play left back? …Is this a serious question?

The aerial battle

There’s a strange disparity between San Jose’s road success and their basic stats. This is a team with low pass completion percentage (70%), a team that gets out-passed (about 389/game, opponents at 460/game), and out-crossed (about 12/game, opponents at 22(!)/game) but converts when they get chances. 6 away goals from 13 shots on goal. That. Is. Good.

By comparison, the Union have two goals from ten shots on goal at home this season. Each team has one from the spot.

What this all means is that when San Jose gets a good chance they take it. Recently they’ve been taking them in the air. Six headed goals in seven games (with no headed goals conceded) means the box battle is being quite firmly won by the Californians. Khari Stephenson, moved up to support Wondolowski, can bop one in as well as Steven Lenhart can. And in Sam Garza, Beitashour and Marvin Chavez, there is a decent supply coming into the box. Shea Salinas’ absence is a big one, but the Quakes have the personnel to make up for it. Frank Yallop can scout opposing teams with the best of them, and he knows that if Dom Oduro can score with his head against Philly, at least 7 Quakes can do the same.

The Union offense

It’s more than just a myth. Michael Farfan and Freddy Adu are a dangerous pair of individuals, and Gabriel Gomez finally pushed up to join the attack last week. With San Jose’s ability to counterattack, Philly needs to hold possession for extended periods of time. Just pushing up and crossing it in won’t get the job done. Adu needs to trust that if he gives the ball up in the final third, he can get it back. And Gomez needs to be willing to make runs into the box when Farfan has the ball up top.

One more thing: The Union technical staff need to give another striker a chance. The main forward is like a goalie in that when he’s hot you stick with him. He’s different in that when the striker is a bit off, he can be rested. Just like that. When Nowak stuck with Seitz, there was a fair, though incorrect, argument that a goalie needs to overcome his issues on the field. This is not so for a striker. While most teams have a clear number one goalie, fewer have clear number one strikers who can’t be rested. Even those with  clear number one strikers will rest them.

So: Mwanga. McInerney. Martinez. Let them play. Why search for a 30-year old striker’s best form when you can demand it from a younger player?

The time to make a change is now.

The Union are being presented with an opportunity to set off fireworks around the league. The Earthquakes haven’t been shut out since a week two loss against Houston. A win tomorrow, with two of the team’s best players this season sidelined, will put the early season struggles firmly in the past.

And if the offense can run through Michael Farfan, the quest to find a playmaker can be called off. Marfan is ready to pull the sword from the stone. Let’s go watch him do it.



  • GK: MacMath
  • DEF: Gaddis, Valdes, Califf, Williams
  • MID: Carroll, Okugo, Adu, Marfan
  • FWD: McInerney, Martinez


  • GK: Long Jon Busch
  • DEF: Justin “2” Morrow, Jason “His and” Hernandez, Ike “O, guard him?” Opara, Steven Beitashour BeitaUnshour
  • MID: Rhymin’ Simon Dawkins, Rhymin’ Tressor Moreno, Samuel L. Cronin, Rafael Baca-actcha
  • FWD: Khari “The H is silent” Stephenson, Chris “My international career is silent” Wondolowski



  • OUT: MF Roger Torres (L knee menisectomy/MCL sprain/bone contusion); FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion)
  • DOUBTFUL: DF Gabriel Farfan (L hamstring strain)
  • QUESTIONABLE: DF Sheanon Williams (L knee MCL sprain)
  • PROBABLE: DF Danny Califf (L hamstring strain); GK Chris Konopka (L wrist sprain)


  • OUT: DF Victor Bernardez (L knee MCL sprain); MF Joey Gjertsen (R knee surgery); FW Alan Gordon (L hamstring strain); MF Cesar Diaz Pizarro (R hamstring strain); MF Shea Salinas (L clavicle fracture); DF Tim Ward (L non-specific soft tissue injury);
  • DOUBTFUL: DF Ramiro Corrales (R calf strain)
  • QUESTIONABLE: DF Ike Opara (R hamstring strain)



Keon Daniel; Gabriel Farfan (red cards)

Suspended next yellow


Steven Lenhart


  1. When Nowak stuck with Seitz, there was a fair, though incorrect, argument that a goalie needs to overcome his issues on the field. Hello, my name is Zac MacMath.

  2. NEWS: SBI reports Garfan got an additional 2 games for his tackle and card last week.

  3. Great article Adam. But there is no way in the world the lineup you propose comes true. I’m guessing Okugo and JackMac remain on the bench. And although I hope Gaddis starts (he deserves it) I wouldn’t be surprised if Lopez gets the nod. I also think Pajoy will remain the starter with Martinez replacing Daniel on the wing.

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