What Are They All About? San Jose Earthquakes
The Process is complicated. This past Wednesday the Chicago Fire lost on the road in Philadelphia by a score of 3-1. Veljko Paunovic chose to rest a few key players in this match and that decision coupled with a continued policy of rewarding form in training resulted in yet another makeshift lineup. We have been assured that he is not just picking names out of a hat and throwing darts at a board to determine the formation as Chicago juggles an increasingly busy schedule with injuries and managed minutes. There is no time for the team or its supporters to dwell on the result as the club chartered a flight for its players to return home on Wednesday evening in anticipation of a home fixture against the San Jose Earthquakes this Saturday (7:30 CT at Toyota Park).
June will be the second consecutive month in which the Fire play six matches and they will be looking to get off on the right foot against what can only be described as an abysmal San Jose Earthquakes side. Sitting in tenth place of the Western Conference, a single point above Colorado and Seattle having played more matches than both, the rebuilding project under Jesse Fioranelli and Mikael Stahre is not shaping up to be what they had hoped. A mass exodus of players and a lack of adequate replacements has been directly reflected in their 2-7-3 record on the season with little hope for a turnaround unless they are willing to splash some cash in July.
This fixture is not one that anyone would have circled on the calendar in February, but it may prove to be momentum shifting if there is to be a winner. However, if you ask us, all signs are pointing to another contest full of mediocrity in Bridgeview. Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
San Jose Form Guide: L-L-D-W-L
Previous Result: A 1-0 loss away to the LA Galaxy.
Strengths: For the first time this season we are having trouble with this column of our preview. We like to tout MLS’ parity but San Jose is a head scratcher this year. We’ll give it a go anyway. Let’s see where the Quakes might succeed in this one.
Get the Ball to Hoesen: San Jose is among the teams to dip into the FC Groningen pool when it comes to signing young, technically gifted, MLS ready players. Danny Hoesen was part of the same KNVB Cup squad that featured Chicago’s own Michael DeLeeuw, Johan Kappelhof and RSL’s Albert Rusnak and he spoke to them prior to joining the Quakes on loan last season. Five goals and five assists on the season, not to mention a pivotal role in helping San Jose to the playoffs, earned him a permanent deal. He has provided some reward for the move with six goals and two assists so far in this campaign.
The Dutchman is an impeccable finisher and his tallies boast a wide range of abilities. In his time in the league, he has scored from various angles, various distances, with virtually every part of his body. Not only that but he seems to have the perfect mix of speed, ability on the ball, and brains to put him in the best positions at the bests times. He is the one signing that Fioranelli has gotten right and if the constantly tweaked midfield can get the ball to his feet, Hoesen can change the match in an instant. That’s all we’ve got folks…
Weaknesses: While we try to remain balanced with our previews, this week is slightly different. There are so many problems with this club on and off the field that we could have written a book if we had the time. Let’s see where San Jose will struggle on Saturday.
Mass Exodus: We will start with the most obvious shortcoming, the lack of adequate replacements for departing players. The offseason saw San Jose Stalwart David Bingham move to Cali Classico rivals LA Galaxy, Marcos Urena snapped up by LAFC, Darwin Ceren swap for the orange of Houston, and Andres Imperiale return to Argentina. Additionally, several fringe players were let go to ply their trade in USL, MLS super-veteran Victor Bernardez retired after a storied career, and a spry thirty-five-year-old Chris Wondolowski has largely been reduced to a bench role.
While high turnover is not a rarity in MLS, it could be argued that San Jose has not concerned itself with rounding out the squad with match ready players. We understand that the construction of Avaya Stadium may have limited their funds for a few years, but incoming coach Mikael Stahre brought in just two players (outside of Hoesen’s permanent transfer) during the winter window.
Magnus Erikkson came up through the Malmo system and spent most of his career in his native Sweden and earned the Allsvenskan golden boot before signing a DP contract with the Quakes. However, his transition has been anything but flawless with several mind-boggling performances that have left the winger absent from important moments in matches. Also coming from the Swedish league, Colombian Joel Qwiberg has made just one appearance this season, necessitating us to chalk him up as a less than adequate addition.
The result of these failures has been an over reliance on academy players that are not quite ready to step in for San Jose in meaningful ways. Thirteen of the Quakes twenty-nine roster slots are filled by players who are twenty-three or younger, and in many cases are being thrown into a trial by fire when the match day squad needs filling out. Additionally, any suspensions, injuries, or call ups hit doubly hard for the Quakes. It is no wonder that there is little hope for this makeshift squad. The Quakes will need to have a busy July if they are to salvage this season.
You All Have Perfect Soccer Brains, Yes?: When San Jose announced the hiring of Stahre, most MLS pundits had to run to their computers to log onto Wikipedia. Although he had some success in his native Sweden with IFK Goteborg, most of his time as a coach has been spent in the lower tiers of leagues in Sweden, Greece, and China. He seems to be a go-to when looking for stability amidst rebuilds, but his approach does not seem to fit well in MLS.
To clarify, Stahre seems to have come into a scenario in which he has inherited a gritty, route one, beat them in terms of physicality, take what we can get side and failed to realize the lack of tactical knowledge, technical skill, and soccer smarts of a majority of his players. This is a man who has tried four different formations in the last four matches (we realize Chicago is in the same boat), leading the team to a three-match winless streak—a streak that would be twelve matches were it not for a rare performance against Minnesota. Not only is there a lack of identity and style present in this squad, there seems to be a distrust of the project in general. While his signings and Hoesen may have bought in, there are growing signs of frustration among the MLS veterans that cannot be good for club morale. Sometimes you have to work with what you are given rather than attempting to force square pegs into round holes, but such a euphemism seems as lost on Stahre as his squad is on the pitch.
From Slim to Slimmer: If the aforementioned issues were not bad enough, the Quakes will be suffering from additional absences this Saturday. On a positive note, Anibal Godoy and Harold Cummings were selected as part of Panama’s twenty-three-man roster for the 2018 World Cup which began training this week, positions earned by their involvement in qualifying as well as their ever-presence in the Quakes lineup. They will be missed by an already under-performing San Jose roster. On a sour note, Jahmir Hyka, Yeferson Quintana, and Eric Calvillo will miss the match due to injury. The Fire could very well be facing a side starting multiple teenagers this weekend.
Prediction: This week’s prediction will be based on necessity rather than calculation. San Jose has to be among the top three picks for winning the wooden spoon this season and anything less than three points for the Fire in this one would be a failure on multiple levels. In fact, as the gap between eighth and sixth continues to grow, a loss in this match could possibly signal the end of any realistic playoff hopes. Chicago 3-0 San Jose. Alan Gordon, Drew Conner, and Lucho Solignac notch for the hosts.