Match previews

Preview: Union at San Jose Earthquakes

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

Who: Philadelphia Union at San Jose Earthquakes 
What: MLS Regular Season
Where: Buck Shaw Stadium, San Jose, California, USA
When: Sunday, Sept. 8 at 11:00pm EST
TV: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes
Referee: Fotus Bazakos; Linesmen: Peter Manikowski, Adam Garner; Fourth official: Tyler Ploeger

Yes, the San Jose Earthquakes are in 8th place in the Western Conference. But if they were in the East, the Quakes would be one of the teams tapping on the Union’s door, looking for a spare playoff spot.

And when San Jose has had success, it has been in the friendly confines of Buck Shaw Stadium. Only one of their eleven losses have come at home and that was on the opening night of the season against Real Salt Lake. Additionally, the Quakes have scored 19 of their 28 goals at home and only given up 12 while allowing an appalling 28 balls to smack Jon Busch’s net on the road. In short, the Union and their fans should expect nothing to come easy on Sunday.

Philly will be without Amobi Okugo as he serves the second game of his red card suspension. Sheanon Williams remains one caution away from a suspension and two games away from a let off for good behavior.

Quakes coming forward

The Earthquakes will seek to push play up the wings even without Honduran international Marvin Chavez. Rafael Baca or Cordell Cato, both capable of playing out wide are likely to deputize. That former Union man Shea Salinas is likely unavailable takes even more sting out of the San Jose offense. Salinas has used good speed and a developed understanding of Chris Wondolowski’s movement to slowly climb toward the top ten in club history in assists. With two more helpers, the winger will enter the top ten.

Wondo and who?

The aforementioned Wondolowski will be paired with either Steven Lenhart, who scored a brace against the Union last season, or Alan Gordon. Both options will play a similar role, since the entire offense is built around getting Wondolowski the ball in the final third. Wondolowski likes to check short to get involved then push the back line with a run across the pitch. This type of movement makes the striker difficult for defenders to track and produces the confusion that gives Wondo the extra space he needs to finish.

Wondolowski’s partner will seek to win long balls out of the back and make a second run into the box looking for scraps. It is a simple and often thankless job that involves a lot more bruising and bashing then shooting and dribbling. Steven Lenhart, of course, thrives in such a role. Even before he crushed PPL Park with a 93rd minute winner last season, Lenhart was mixing it up with the back line and anybody who dared to boo him.

Shutting off the faucet

As dangerous as Wondolowski can be, the Union can neutralize him if they can cut off his service. San Jose is riddled with niggling injuries and the midfield they can put on the pitch on Saturday is unlikely to be first choice. Philly should be able to use energy and pressure to force the Quakes into a long ball game. The trick, then, is to win a few of the long balls. If Lenhart or Gordon dominate the air and get Cato and Baca on the ball far up the pitch, the Quakes can be dangerous in a hurry. Passing charts from San Jose’s last home match show that nearly every player made a pass to Wondolowski, suggesting that isolating the talisman is key to controlling the Earthquake attack.

Corral Cronin
Cronin vs MTL

Cronin vs MTL

The other player the Union need to address is central midfielder Sam Cronin. The former third overall pick is trying to establish his Brian Carroll bona fides with another stellar season in the midfield. A lack of finishing touch keeps Cronin from becoming a true box-to-box player, but he has developed his game to a new level this season without a regular partner in the middle of the pitch.

On his game, Cronin reads play as well as Carroll, though he excels playing a more aggressive tackling game. With San Jose’s midfield decimated by injury, Cronin has adopted a conservative role on the road but continues to gallop around the pitch at home. If Cronin can pin the Union’s central midfield deep and force the Union to build play from their own half, the Union will struggle to create chances.

Cronin vs COL

Cronin vs COL

Creating their own offense

This is not the early season Philadelphia Union. Recently, lady luck has dimmed her spotlight and reminded Philly that there is a clear relationship between chance creation and points. The success that came from McInerney’s early run and Conor Casey’s midseason form seems to have left the Union a one trick pony, with attacks up the flank followed by a hopeful cross the only option. Well, that and set pieces.

Calling the Kleb

All week John Hackworth has talked up Kleberson, and at this point the Brazilian seems like the best option for the Union if they are planning to go for broke. One point on the road may be enough, but if Hackworth isn’t so sure, he will start Kleberson on Sunday and push to win.

Kleberson offers a return to the diamond midfield that the Union tried out early in 2013, with Brian Carroll sweeping behind a more advanced partner. Conor Casey’s desire to drop deep and pick up the ball in front of the back four has made the advanced midfielder role less of a necessity of late, but keeping the strikers up the pitch will be emphasized if the Union want to grab an away goal or two.

Since putting two past Real Salt Lake at the beginning of July, Philly has only scored two road goals in four games. They will need at least that many to leave Buck Shaw Stadium with all three points Saturday night.

Quick Notes
  • San Jose leading scorers: Wondo – 8; Adam Jahn – 4; Alan Gordon – 4; Steven Lenhart – 2; Sam Cronin – 2
  • San Jose leading assists: Shea Salinas – 6; Alan Gordon, Wondo, Cronin, Steven Beitashour – 3
  • Wondolowski has more shots on goal than anybody else on the team has shots
  • Sunday night is Steven Lenhart chia pet night. Go ahead, read that again… I’ll wait



  1. Great analysis. I am real hoping that Kleberson gets a chance. I know we haven’t seen much, but he can’t possibly be worse than Keon has been of late.
    In this formation I’d like to see Marfan start, as I think he offers more of a creative influence than Cruz, and with Kleberson in a more advanced role than our usual CAM, we will have 2 forwards making runs instead of 1, which takes away the need slightly for Danny to just fly up the pitch.
    This is another game for Shaenon to come up huge. He has the skillset to take Wondo out of the game, and if that happens the Union have a great chance at the win.

  2. murphthesurf says:

    Good Preview ~

    Personally, I would put in:

    JackMac Le Toux



    Fabniho Souza

    Gaddis Parke Williams


    Btw- When , if Ever, do we get Carlos Valdes back ?

    YMMV ~

    Go Union !

    • I don’t know if the length of the loan for Valdes was ever disclosed but I wouldn’t expect to see him until next season at the earliest. Honestly I expect him to be permanently transferred to Santa Fe.

  3. murphthesurf says:

    Good Preview ~

    Personally, I would put in:

    *******JackMac Le Toux
    **********Fabniho Souza
    ******Gaddis Parke Williams**

    Maybe this way it will keep it’s shape ?

    Peace –

    Go Union !

  4. What’s with all the Nikolov in net stuff? It won’t happen and I would hesitate to see a brand new keeper in net in a playoff hunt. It’s just not smart, his communication, understanding, and relationship to this team is too much of an unknown.

  5. Steven Lenhart Chia Pet Night is an inspired promotional gimmick. But I don’t think I’d want a chia pet that’s going to try and take out my knees when the ref isn’t looking.

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