Know Your Enemy: San Jose Earthquakes
OTF’s Stephen Mangat is a one man natural disaster…It’s amazing when something is so obvious yet seems to be overlooked by the person to whom it should matter most. Did Nixon not realize that taping everything in the Oval Office was far more dangerous to himself, a slightly unhinged loon, than it was to anyone else? Did Crumbs honestly thinks that a food fad was the foundation for a nationwide chain of bakeries? Does San Jose Earthquakes coach Mark Watson seriously think that his team has a chance in a highly competitive Western Conference without a midfielder that can create goal scoring chances?
Truth be told, loyal readers, it makes one wonder. Nonetheless, it’s time to look at this sorry squad as your Chicago Fire take them on this Wednesday.
PLAY OUR MUSIC!!
Mark Watson was Frank Yallop’s #2 and he’ll set up the Earthquakes in a straight 4-4-2 with speed on the outside and athleticism up top. This is as simple as it gets and they play more like a college or high school team than a proper professional one.
While one should never expect the beautiful game from San Jose, this team no longer even plays the effective game (17 points in 17 games) because they lack a player who can consistently deliver smart passes that lead to sustained offense. It need not even be a central player as San Jose’s recent success came with quality service from Steven Beitashour, Ramiro Corrales and Simon Dawkins. Whatever the case, this team is missing a player or three who can create offense.
Jon Busch, age 72, is somehow still around. He’s still a good shot stopper after 10+ years in the league
Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez are a great pairing in the middle even if they lack a bit of speed. Unfortunately Goodson is always hurt so don’t be surprised if Jason Hernandez plays (whoever he is). On the left will be Jordan Stewart and on the right will be either Brandon Barklage or Jamaican Shawn Francis. I’m even going to pretend I know something about them. Moving on…
Fast guys on the outside will be two of Shea Salinas, Khari Stephenson, Yannick Djalo or Atiba Harris. They’re all very similar players and without a real creator in the middle, they all tend to run up and down the field to little effect. The middle will be Sam Cronin who is a typical hustler and Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi who a skillful and conservative midfielder. Pierazzi is a perfectly fine player but when combined with Cronin, San Jose doesn’t really generate much threat.
This is the fun part of San Jose. Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon are still around and they haven’t changed. Big, strong, fast but little in the way of subtlety. Like the outside midfielders, the forwards lack consistent, non-mediocre service, and since they’re not going to go on any Messi-esque dribbles, this talented front line starves.
How can the Fire win?
Let the center midfielders try to win the game
San Jose’s center midfielders just aren’t capable of breaking down opponents, so the Fire should funnel the ball to them and force them to make non-easy passes. It’ll be a turnover party for the Fire.
It would be quite a surprise if San Jose played anything put a standard 4-4-2. As such, Frank Yallop can set up the Fire in several ways to take advantage of the Earthquakes predictability. Perhaps a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3?
Set pieces and long balls
This should go without saying: San Jose is big and good in the air; therefore, the Fire need to pressure the Earthquakes’ wide men from about 40 yards out or else it’ll be bombs away. That said, no need to be wreckless as the midfielders are fast, just apply enough pressure so that there are no free crosses into the box.
Well, Fire fans, if you can’t keep a clean sheet and three points out of this one, just give up hope. Then drink until you have hope again. It’s the circle of life…
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Stephen Mangat is a Philadelphia Union season ticket holder and finished second to “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair at the 1992 Royal Rumble. You can follow him @smangat12.