Match previews

Preview: Union at San Jose Earthquakes

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Who: Philadelphia Union at San Jose Earthquakes
What: 2015 regular season game
Where: Avaya Stadium
When: Saturday, September 5 at 10:30 pm
Watch: TCN, MLS Live, MLS Direct Kick
Whistle: Ismail Elfath; Linesmen:  Ian Anderson, Jeffrey Greeson; Fourth Official: Daniel Radford

So here’s the bad news. San Jose Earthquakes went undefeated in August, giving up one goal and scoring 11. The last three teams Dom Kinnear’s boys destroyed? Kansas City, DC United, and LA Galaxy. Not exactly patsies.

Here’s the really bad news: Philadelphia will be facing one of the league’s best defenses without Cristian Maidana, the only player on the roster who has approached consistency in offensive contributions this season.

Lots of absences

It’s not all darkness, though: San Jose will be without many key contributors: Anibal Godoy (Panama), Cordell Cato (Trinidad and Tobago), Sanna Nyassi (Gambia), and Marc Pelosi (US U-23s) have all been called up for international duty. Additionally, Jean-Baptise Pierazzi (foot), Fatai Alashe (hamstring), and Matias Perez Garcia (hamstring) are all nursing some level of injury, with Perez Garcia the most likely to feature on Saturday.

There is a chance Cato, who will face Mexico in Sandy, Utah on Friday, will be able to return in time for Saturday’s match. If he cannot make it, Tommy Thompson is likely to get the call on the flank.

Make no mistake, though: Godoy is the biggest loss.

Even though DC was able to get a ton of shots off, they had to rely on the wings for key passes. Without Godoy, Philly may find more space up the gut.

Even though DC United was able to get a ton of shots off, they had to rely on the wings for key passes. Without Godoy, Philly may find more space up the gut.

Tactics minus Godoy

The Quakes signed Godoy in early August and threw him into the fire. The 25-year old responded brilliantly, and the team has yet to give up a goal with him on the pitch. As Thomas Floyd points out, Godoy gives San Jose an extra body in the middle to snuff out counterattacks and generally prevent teams from running through a midfield that previously featured a ton of offensive talent and a talented but still-green rookie. The Panama international’s passing range has been a boon as well, allowing Shea Salinas and Quincy Amarikwa to become more impactful.

But forget all that because Godoy won’t be around this weekend.

The interesting question, then, is how Dom Kinnear replaces him.

The two-way game Godoy brings — good positioning mixed with accurate passing — cannot be replaced by anyone on the Quakes roster. JJ Koval offers a covering option, Alashe, if healthy, does the same. Garcia Perez is an attacking player, and introducing him to the lineup would mean either moving Chris Wondolowski forward or playing with a single defensive midfielder behind Wondo and Garcia Perez. Khari Stephenson will also be available, but it is hard to see how he fits into the San Jose midfield as currently constructed.

The most likely scenario is that Kinnear goes with Alashe if he’s healthy and Koval if the rookie fails a fitness test (Alashe has resumed practicing but his status is still unclear). Garcia Perez should also return, especially after Kinnear watches video of Lee Nguyen balletically slicing apart the Union defense.

This leaves the Quakes with a triangle midfield supported by some combination of Salinas, Cato, and Thompson out wide. Philadelphia should counter with a very similar formation.

DC spent more time on the right, but when they got penetration it was down Marvell Wynne's side of the pitch.

DC spent more time on the right, but when they got penetration it was down Marvell Wynne’s side of the pitch.

Union shape

Jim Curtin hinted at moving Tranquillo Barnetta into the middle with Chaco Maidana suspended. This implies that Vincent Nogueira will continue to partner either Brian Carroll or Michael Lahoud in a deeper role. Carroll is the more likely, though he does have to rest at some point if Curtin wants him to be fresh for the US Open Cup final. A long road trip might be the time to do it.

Moving Barnetta makes sense if you assume Curtin is simply following the plan he imagined when the Swiss international joined. And it makes sense if Brian Carroll is going to be rested. But a Barnetta-Carroll-Nogueira central trio does not make sense.

Why not?

Barnetta has not lit the world on fire on the wing. But he has been a) Quite good, and b) Far better than anybody else who could replace him. Between Eric Ayuk and Andrew Wenger, the start would have to go to Ayuk. He plays hot and cold, but even his cold streaks are far less icy than Andrew Wenger’s season-long form. The real point is that neither player brings anything close to the type of complete game Barnetta offers.

Second, leaving Barnetta on the wing means moving Vincent Nogueira into an attacking midfield role in front of Lahoud and Carroll. Is this ideal? Not at all. Is a double-deep pairing that has found success in recent weeks preferable to moving Barnetta off the wing? Yes. Definitely.

Even if Barnetta’s future is in the middle, that future should be accompanied by new players on the wing. Sebastien Le Toux’s late season surge has shown how the Frenchman is systematically undervalued for his ability to adapt to changing systems (this adaptation was slow, but let that take nothing away from how impressive it has been). Without new blood on the wing, there is no compelling reason to move Barnetta. It makes the first eleven worse overall (though I’ll be more than happy to be proven wrong by an Ayuk backflip or two).

The most important aspect of this match is how Philadelphia adjusts to Maidana’s absence. They can introduce a second striker or utilize the three-man midfields outlined above. A second striker would mean giving up numbers in the middle, but at the same time it may turn out to fit the Union’s road tactics fairly well. Given how poorly the Union’s back line has passed the ball, abandoning the pretense of an intricate counterattack may be the order of the day. Fernando Aristeguieta and CJ Sapong knocking balls down for the midfield won’t be pretty, but it can be effective, particularly if San Jose is forced by roster constraints to play with a single holding player.

Back in July, San Jose was more susceptible to counterattacks, with Houston able to counter quickly even though Alashe did well clogging the middle.

Back in July, San Jose was more susceptible to counterattacks, with Houston able to counter quickly even though Alashe did well clogging the middle.

Defenses

The Quakes have a mercurial defense. When well-protected up the middle, the back four look coherent and strong. Without that protection, they have been wildly inconsistent. Losing Jordan Stewart has meant San Jose must move forward with Marvell Wynne and Shaun Francis out wide. Did I mention that the defense has been mercurial? Does any MLS defender embody that word better than Marvell Wynne?

Back in July when San Jose couldn’t buy a win, teams were able to attack them up the flanks in transition. Houston, despite playing an ugly, ugly game, created numerous chances by driving at Wynne and bringing extra numbers through late when the defender committed to the ball.

That link between Wynne and Bernardez is the weakest one in the Quakes back line. Bernardez prefers to stay central, but Wynne’s aggressiveness often means the centerback is pulled into the corners. Adding a second holding player allowed Bernardez to stay where he prefers, but San Jose may not have that option this weekend.

The Union will still be without Maurice Edu, meaning the same back four is likely to start against the Quakes. The usual warnings about depth and aggressiveness apply. See any recent preview or post-match analysis for more details.

Likely lineup

Likely lineup

Prediction: Quakes 0-0 Union

With both teams missing key players, it is easy to see this match becoming a muddled mess without any good outlets or transition play. That said, if one team is able to pinpoint a weak spot, it will be difficult for the opponent to correct for it with such limited resources available.

Jim Curtin has to decide whether a third midfielder will be more beneficial than a second striker and, if so, implement tactics that will prevent ginormous holes from opening up between his midfield and defense. Dom Kinnear needs to figure out how to confront the Union without the player that has tied together the many talented but loosely assembled parts of the Quakes lineup.

The international break has handed the Union a chance to steal three points on the road, but Chaco Maidana’s red card is going to make those points extremely hard to grab.

6 Comments

  1. Old Soccer Coach says:

    How did the quakes beat Galaxy, SKC, & Houston? Did they suppress the opposition midfield?

  2. Optimistic to think we’ll draw 0-0. Think it will more like a 2-0 loss

  3. Just looked at the league’s disciplinary summary any Chaco’s name is not on there. Did the league buy his statement that the gum fell out and rescind the card?
    .
    On the other hand, Nogueria is one yellow away from suspension and has already used up his good behavior incentive. If Seba avoids yellow on Saturday, he goes to two yellows away.

    • Jonathan Tannenwald ‏@thegoalkeeper 17m17 minutes ago North Beach, San Francisco
      Cristian Maidana gets one additional game on top of the one for his red card.
      ———————————-
      Jonathan Tannenwald ‏@thegoalkeeper 18m18 minutes ago North Beach, San Francisco
      It was originally to be two extra games but the @MLSPlayersUnion appealed and that appeal was upheld.

  4. Maybe Curtin can look at the Iceland-Holland videos to see what you can do with a team not blessed with much talent.

  5. AR1 for the game is Ian Anderson. Is he bringing his flute?

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