What Are They All About? San Jose Earth Quakes
The cup run continues! A David Accam brace and some nail-biting defensive moments saw the Chicago Fire across the line against Columbus Crew SC in the Lamar Hunt U.S Open Cup. Another double-match week awaits them after their victory as they look to welcome the San Jose Earth Quakes to Toyota Park on Friday. Dominic Kinnear and his charges enter the match sitting in eighth place of the Western Conference. However, only five points separate third place and eighth in the West and the Quakes will certainly view this as an opportunity to snatch three points and climb the standings before the rest of the weekend’s matches.
Chicago will take solace in the fact that San Jose currently find themselves on a six match winless streak and will certainly fancy their chances to build momentum. Also of note, San Jose has yet to win on the road this season, drawing four and losing four. A cast of familiar friends and foes will be in attendance as the Quakes visit and it will certainly spice up the only league meeting between these two sides. Will the Fire notch their first win against San Jose in four years to salvage some hope, or will San Jose jump at the chance to get above the red line?
San Jose Form Guide (Last Five Competitive Matches): D-D-L-L-D
Previous Match: A 1-1 home draw against LA Galaxy.
Formation: 4-4-2; Bingham; Sarkodie, Wynne, Bernardez, Francis; Quintero, Godoy, Alashe, Perez Garcia; Dawkins, Amarikwa
Strengths: Despite their current place in the standings you can never underestimate a side coached by Kinnear. Many of the Quakes’ struggles come from a lack of consistency more than a lack of talent. Let’s take a look at some areas where they could be dangerous if they play to their potential on Friday.
Dom Kinnear: From time to time we like to take a moment to talk about the coaches in charge of the opposition and there are very few cases where that is more pertinent than with the man at the helm of the Quakes. Dom Kinnear played 28 matches for the San Jose Clash towards the end of his playing career and returned to the Bay Area as an assistant with the Quakes in 2001 before being given the reins in 2004. When the franchise moved to Houston, so did Kinnear but he made his return last season and looks to be in it for the long haul.
Kinnear has never been known as a tactical genius by any stretch of the imagination, opting to line up in a 4-4-2 for most of his career and being known for using strong arm tactics rather than flowing play. One thing is for sure though; if he asks his players to run through a brick wall for him they ask “How many times?”. He has become renowned for getting out of favor players to perform for him and his reclamation projects have often had their best seasons under his tutelage. With their current winless streak many of the players may feel like they have their backs against the wall, a situation that Kinnear will thrive in.
Try, Try Again: A seamless transition from Kinnear to a concrete strength is San Jose’s never say die attitude. The Quakes have registered double digit shot counts in all of their last four matches, out-possessed their opponents in those matches, and completed more successful blocks and interceptions as well. If the table was organized on the amount of effort put into matches, then the Quakes would be in the running for the supporters shield. The workhorse like attitude of Quincy Amarikwa, Marvell Wynne, and Victor Bernardez are certainly noteworthy and the heat map of the Quakes players over the last four matches leaves few blades of grass untouched.
San Jose also seems to be unfazed by match clocks as their continued effort is getting eerily reminiscent of the 2012 “Goonies” comeback kings. Chad Barrett’s 90th minute equalizer against LA along with Barrett’s 85th and Shea Salnas’ 94th minute goals against Orlando have highlighted the Quakes “will to win”. A complete 90 minute performance from the Chicago players cannot be overstated in the days leading up to this match.
Give ‘Em a Little Shove: We alluded to it above but San Jose is not an easy side to come up against in terms of physical play. The Quakes have committed 211 fouls in sixteen league matches including twenty-four yellow cards and two red cards. They may not play sexy flowing soccer but they will certainly try to ensure that their opponents don’t either. Given the injuries currently plaguing the Fire and the seemingly frail nature of David Accam Chicago might be worried heading into this one.
You Shouldn’t Have Left Me: Although it’s commonplace in MLS there are some interesting former player connections awaiting this fixture. Quincy Amarikwa has already been mentioned and the host of “Quincy Time” will try to ensure his name appears on the score sheet as well. His time in Chicago ended on anything but a positive note but he went on to tally six goals and four assists for Kinnear after joining San Jose midway through 2015. He has hit his usual second year slump and managed just one goal in twelve appearances this campaign but we don’t think form will matter in this one.
Chad Barrett, Shaun Francis, and Sanna Nyassi have also had stints with the Fire. Barrett remembered his time with Chicago fondly on air with Sirius XM this week while Francis and Nyassi spent just one year each with the Fire making very few appearances (one and ten respectively). Despite that they might jump a little higher after scoring in this one.
Oh Yeah, That Guy: We’ll finish up our strengths section by reminding readers that Chris Wondolowski has returned from Copa America and is ready to add to his season’s goal tally. Some teams have fancy foreign DP signings; San Jose has the nine year Quakes veteran (thirteen if you count the franchise move to Houston). It’s not our place to judge his national team performances so we’ll stick to the league stats. Wondolowski has 116 career MLS goals in 241 league appearances. His goals to games ratio is slightly better than his career average this season as he currently sits on seven goals from twelve appearances. We’re not sure how to mark him or negate his danger but Fire fans will hope that Campbell and Kappelhoff have figured it out.
Weaknesses: As Veljko Paunovic would say, “this isn’t the Olympics”. There are no participation medals in MLS and at the end of the day San Jose is still in eighth place in the West. Results haven’t gone their way and effort doesn’t always translate into points. Let’s take a look at where the Quakes have struggled.
Shots, SOG, and Goals: Again, San Jose’s ability to pepper the opposition with shots doesn’t necessarily translate into positivity. Of the 185 shots that the Quakes have taken this season just 57 have been on target with 19 finding the back of the net. The Sounders and SKC are the only two teams with a worse “goals for” total in the West and San Jose’s roughly 10% shot to goal ratio is among the worst in the league. Their reliance on Wondolowski becomes all the more evident when you realize that San Jose went scoreless in three of the four games that he missed with the National Team and the next closest goals producer sits at three goals in fourteen appearances (Alberto Quintero). Interestingly the five other forwards on the roster who have appeared in a match (Innocent, Jahn, Barrett, Amarikwa and Dawkins) have combined for a total of five goals on the season.
Simon Dawkins was touted as a savior upon his DP contract return to San Jose after he spent time bouncing around Tottenham, Aston Villa and Derby County in England bur his one goal in thirteen appearances has failed to impress. Fire DP’s have been cut with higher goals scoring ratios. If Chicago can put their past two league performances behind them and clamp down on Wondolowski, this San Jose side will struggle. A well-organized defense and Sean Johnson’s ability to deal with shots should do the trick.
One Dimensional: There is nothing wrong with playing a 4-4-2 but there are always downsides to every tactical approach. The Quakes may be highly organized with their two banks of four, and their two forwards complement each other stylistically, but when this team is stifled in possession they quickly run out of ideas. Many Chicago supporters complain about the lack of a true CAM in their lineup but San Jose has several and can’t seem to utilize them properly. At times it is almost like watching synchronized swimming when San Jose take the field, their midfield often moves as a singular unit but fails to create quickly.
Much of their development revolves around a lateral movement of the ball in midfield rather than penetrating passes. In fact, their highest error rate of passes in the last four matches has come from midfielders attempting to distribute long balls. With Amarikwa on the field you have to give him good service in behind the center backs and there has been a lack of that. Matias Perez Garcia, Fatai Alashe, Alberto Quintero and Anibal Godoy can be creative players but it is as if the system stifles them. Perhaps Kinnear requires a certain amount of passes to get the ball into the final third or explicitly instructs his players to dump it into the box from as close to the goal line as possible. Sure, San Jose has hit double digits in crosses in all four recent matches but the buildup play has allowed for the opposition to organize by that point.
Late in the match they hoof it up field and we guess it has worked for them but the Quakes cannot rely on late match heroics every time.
The Earthquakes are also missing several starters to injury including centerbacks Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson.
Calendar Pressure: San Jose will go into this fixture knowing that if they don’t get three points they could quickly fall behind in the standings. The West is clearly more competitive than the East and the Quakes have two of the top three Western conference teams coming up over the next three weeks. They cannot slip up before facing RSL and Dallas. Pressure increases the room for error.
Prediction: Chicago will save its results for their Open Cup Run. The MLS season is quickly slipping from their grasp and they won’t stop the bleeding against a gritty San Jose side. Chicago 2-2 San Jose: David Accam notches another brace, Quincy Amarikwa volleys home before celebrating with a triple back flip while flexing his abs, and Wondolowski seals up the road point in the 98th.