Remember last year when the San Jose Earthquakes gave up a league-high 51 goals? The team that had a string of losses 5-1, 7-1, 6-1, and 5-0? The team that finished 8th in the West with a –16 goal differential? Their offseason acquisitions were primarily depth pieces, so they are still that team.
The final score against Houston in the opener on Friday was a respectable 2-1 loss, but it could have been much worse. Coach Matias Almeyda enters his third season in San Jose and the unique man-marking ideas that served them well in his first season may not be as successful this time around.
San Jose played only two preseason matches - against USL sides Oakland Roots and the Sacramento Republic – and it showed. Though both were wins and the information that reached social media suggested that rising star Cade Cowell played well and scored some goals, the reality is that these games were against USL-C clubs who were also in the preseason, and San Jose just did not look ready to play against Houston – the same Houston team that did not look threatening the week before against Dallas turned around and nearly ran San Jose off the field for 60 minutes.
We know what to expect when the Quakes – Chris Wondolowski. But at 38, don’t expect to see Wondo until the last 30 minutes. What I heard most frequently during the preseason about San Jose’s acquisitions was that they were Almeyda’s guys: Eric Remedi, Chofis Lopez, and Luciano Abecasis. All have previously played for Almeyda. Coaches bring in “their guys” to instill “their system.” But this is not Almeyda’s first season, and the system should be instilled already.
Against Dallas, I expect San Jose to play to a 4-2-3-1 with 17-year-old Cade Cowell leading the way. Carlos Fierro will likely line up at left-wing and Christian Espinoza (nine assists in 2020) on the right. Even if he can’t vote yet, Cowell is a grown @$$ man. He went shoulder to shoulder with Houston’s Tim Parker and won the duel impressively. If the midfield can get the ball to him, he’s going to be dangerous. Between the wingers at the #10 is Lopez who arrived from Chivas. Whether he was rusty (like the rest of the team) or just needs time to learn the league, the new addition was mostly a non-factor in last Friday’s game. His only notable play was the yellow card he picked up after attempting to kick a Houston player (he missed).
In the middle of the pitch, the Quakes play a double pivot with young USMNT player Jackson Yueill pulling the strings from deep. The more defensively minded Judson usually plays beside him but missed the Houston game (he’s completing paperwork in Brazil for his green card – no word yet on his availability for this weekend). Eric Remedi (surplus to needs in Atlanta) filled in for Judson in Houston and was notable mostly for his fouls – perhaps they were intentional, but they seemed the type brought on by frustration at being a constant step behind.
In the back, right back Tommy Thompson picked up an injury a few minutes into the Houston match and was promptly replaced by Luciano Abecasis. At center back, San Jose has veterans Florian Jungwirth and Oswaldo Alanis, and then Marco Lopez holds down the left. U23 national team keeper J.T. Marcinkowski backs them up in the net and notably, San Jose’s goals allowed dropped dramatically when he took over last season.
Keys to the Match:
Houston started aggressively with Fafa Picault having a field day against the San Jose backline. The danger of San Jose’s man-marking is that defenders are one-v-one at the back – Houston winger Fafa Picault and Maxi Urruti had acres of space to run in. This is something the FC Dallas wingers should take advantage of it. Let San Jose press and then punish them. Unless San Jose suddenly changes tactics, I don’t expect to see a bunkered defense.
San Jose’s midfield looks like a group that has never previously played together. Yueill missed part of the preseason with the U23s and his name was barely mentioned in the Houston match. Lopez and Remedi were new. Don’t let them establish a rhythm. Bump them. Frustrate them. Let them self-destruct. On the other hand, the best and most experienced players for the California crew were Wondolowski (38) and Shea Salinas (34). They don’t have the legs to press for 90 minutes, but they came in with 30 minutes to play and changed the game. After dominating for the first hour, Houston almost let this one slip away. Marie got the goal (it was a beauty), but Wondo and Salinas put San Jose on the front foot and nearly (arguably should have) equalized. But we know those subs are coming.
We know the Quakes will press all over the field. Houston mostly avoided this by playing long passes either from the back or from a deeper-lying midfielder – like Andres Ricaurte. So Ricaurte (or Paxton Pomykal if he gets into this one, too!) needs to play the ball quickly into the spaces behind the defense. Whether from a lack of fitness or understanding, SJ will probably give him the time. I expect a wide-open game.
Young Player to Watch:
You’ve probably heard the whistleblowing on the hype train for Cowell. But he can’t do it all by himself and needs someone to pass him the ball. John Nelson’s job will be to deny Christian Espinoza the opportunity to supply that service. Cowell can’t (and didn’t) do it all by himself. (If you want to watch old players, I mentioned that Wondo is 38).
Probable Starting Line-Up
Carlos Fierro - Cade Cowell – Christian Espinoza
Eric Remedi – Jackson Yueill
Marco Lopez – Oswaldo Alanis – Florian Jungwirth – Luciano Abecasis