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Know the Enemy: San Jose Earthquakes

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MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps at San Jose Earthquakes Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Head-to-Head:

Each season, the Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes play three matches, and it is my only opportunity to see the Whitecaps in-person, as I now reside in San Jose. Head-to-head, Vancouver has dominated this matchup, with seven wins, one loss, and three draws. They have scored 21 goals and only allowed 12. In fact, San Jose’s only victory came in 2017, when David Ousted received a red card in the 23rdminute, after the Whitecaps had gone up 2-0. The Earthquakes scored three unanswered goals to win that match 3-2. Extending beyond the regular season, you will recall the 2017 Knockout Round match at BC Place, where Vancouver scored five…we will ignore the Sounders series that came after!

Recent Form:

Despite Vancouver’s dominance in this series, we could see a different outcome on Saturday. The Whitecaps have lost four straight and are winless in their past eight while San Jose have just one loss in their last nine and have four wins and one loss in their last five. To say that these two teams are heading in opposite directions is an understatement! While history might be on the Whitecaps side, recent form, the more important measure, is clearly on Earthquakes side.

Strategy:

Marc Dos Santos is in the midst of a tough stretch with the Caps routinely losingplaying twice a week. As a result, there has been a lot of rotation. Luckily, the Caps have not been hampered too much by injuries. Unfortunately, the depth is not exactly something to write home about.

MDS made a lot of changes for Wednesday’s New England Revolution match from the one that lost to Kansas City last Saturday. Possibly the biggest surprise was Theo Bair getting a second straight start in place of Montero, who was back from his red card suspension. Speaking of suspensions, Ali Adnan will return after sitting out Wednesday’s match due to yellow card accumulation. With the lack of depth in the left side of the defense expect him to be back in the starting lineup.

Dos Santos began the season in a 4-3-3 formation, oscillated between 4-3-3 (home) and 3-5-2 (road), and now seems firmly entrenched in 3-5-2. I expect to see that continue on Saturday evening.

Three Questions

In preparation for this match, we spoke with Center Line Soccer’s Oz Lucero about San Jose’s surprising start to 2019.

1. San Jose Earthquakes got off to a shaky start, losing five of their first six matches. Since then, they have only lost twice in 14, which has included 8 wins. What changed for the club after those first six?

I don’t think it was anything that “clicked” within the team, but they needed some time to adjust to Matias Almeyda’s system. I go back to the Quakes media day in February when Anibal Godoy mentioned that this was the first time since he played in Panama that he had to go through such a strenuous training regiment. It took a while for the players’ bodies to adjust, if you look at the first month of the season they were still playing the same type of soccer that they are having success with, but they weren’t getting the results. Once the players could handle 90 minutes of “everybody running and everybody playing,” they got the confidence to play the fun and aggressive style demanded by Almeyda.

2.Both San Jose and Vancouver brought in a new coach this offseason. While Vancouver burned it to the ground, San Jose took a different approach and worked with what they had. Why was it decided to work with existing players rather than try to start over?

I think it was a combination of several factors. First, the front office believed they had a better roster than the results showed, and they are known to want to save a few bucks where they can. Also in the last couple of years, the Quakes have been steadily growing their academy, and building partnerships with youth soccer clubs around Northern California and those efforts are starting to bear fruit so why would you clean house and ruin that progress. Players like Cade Cowell and Gilbert Fuentes have come out of those efforts, and while their future success is not guaranteed, I think it shows that the front office is thinking about a long term strategy. Bringing in a manager like Matias Almeyda who has demonstrated a willingness to play younger players and who can create an identity for the Earthquakes, I believe, is also part of that strategy.

3.San Jose has been a bottom-feeder for a while now. This season seems to be different. What do you see needing to happen for the rest of this season and next for them to return to a top contender in the West?

Roster depth. Sure at some point, MLS managers are going to find out how to slow down Almeyda’s system, but in a system that relies on one-on-one battles there is only so much a team can prepare for. What can really hurt the Quakes is if their players don’t have the fitness to win those battles which will allow the opposing team a lot of space to run down the pitch and take shots at Daniel Vega. I’m defiantly not saying the only thing keeping the Quakes from going deep in the playoffs is a more physically fit roster, but Almeyda has already proven that he can turn teams into champions.