San Jose: A Week of High Quakes (RSL) and Low Quakes (Seattle, Portland)
Source: ISI Photos
Matt: So Josh, let's talk RSL. WHAT. A. GAME. After that killer bicycle kick goal from Rubin, I was ready to see the Quakes deflate and chase the draw. In comes Wondo at the 72’, and he and Fierro connect TWICE - once on a rebound, once on a header assist - in four minutes to win the game. AMAZING. Josh, did you order the TOPPS MLS NOW Wondo brace card?
Josh: An awesome 4 minutes of Earthquakes soccer. I didn’t get the card, but I’m holding out for a Wondo Funko. He demonstrated his expertise - he doesn’t run all 90 minutes, but when he’s out there, he’s constantly reading the field and staying onside. In both of those plays, he wasn’t running & gunning - just lining up so that when a long cross or a rebound pops, he can play it right!
Matt: I think we saw some real improvement in overall game play and flow this week from the Quakes. While I wasn’t that impressed during the RSL game, they improved a little against a very disruptive Seattle side and played connected, creative soccer against Portland. One disappointment that DIDN’T change during the week is seeing them look flat-footed on defense. We’ve talked about this before - when things are going well, they are GREAT. When the team is disjointed, REALLY BAD things happen.
Josh: Absolutely. When you see your team’s defenders running and their bodies are at an angle, you know they are chasing the activity, not playing ahead, and certainly not keeping their head up for the bigger picture.
Matt: My biggest frustration was watching the box and seeing blue jersey body language that said “I hope someone else has that, because I’m not going to get there in time.” Which is how I felt in spades watching them play Seattle.
Josh: Looking at the stats from Portland - most corners, most shots, fewest fouls in over a year, a PK, and you’re not winning the game? That tells me the focus this week at practice has to focus within the last 18 yards.
Matt: Agreed, though you’re not mentioning the most relevant stat: Chances Created - Quakes 0, Portland 3. In that vein, in the Revs vs. Columbus thriller I went to on Sunday, the Revs outplayed Columbus for at least 70 of the first 80 minutes...but no goals. And then with about 10 minutes left Columbus set up in front of the Revs goal and I thought “OH NO.” Fortunately, the defense kept clearing the ball, and not much longer after that Brandon Bye brought the ball up the right wing (picked up his head, spotted a teammate) and centered it to Buksa -- who redirected it for the eventual winner. Want to guess who fed the ball to Bye for the assist?
Josh: That awesome goalie? Right - it takes the defense heads up and attention to see the exit strategy. During both losses, the D was barely clearing the ball, never mind grabbing control and heading back down field.
Matt: Nope. #22, Carles Gil. You had to know I would mention him. But I can see how I might have set you up to think Matt Turner. Anyway, San Jose was the better team for the vast majority of Saturday’s game and had their chances. What I found discouraging was that Portland’s goals weren’t bangers, bicycle kicks, or galazos, they were just the result of ball control (chipping the goalie) and fundamentals (center the ball, head it in). If Portland doesn’t get separation on those plays, it’s a lot harder for them to put the ball into the back of the net.
Josh: Right? Neither of the Portland goals were particularly exciting, just good fundamental play. Both Seattle and Portland have strong defensive ends, and I think what we saw was that when the ball spends a lot of time on the Quakes side, those smaller moments and “pitch vision” shortcomings are revealed.
Matt: By the way, someone should check in with Wondo...is he telling his PKs?
Josh: No kidding. Like we all get what he was trying to do by playing it off the heel, but Ketterer read it easily. I know that in the MLS (and USL!), even sub goalies are good, but… For me, I like giving Wondo an exciting send-off season, but when the game is that close, you’ve got young, strong legs on the field - get someone to drive it home in the top corner, tie it up, and get the momentum back for an exciting finish.
Matt: I’m happy for San Jose native Benji Kikanovic, who made his MLS debut for the Quakes last night, subbing in the 63rd minute. By all accounts, he looked good on the pitch!
Josh: Agreed, as well as the first minutes this season for Skahan. I like what Almeyda said in the post-game - getting the younger players minutes out on the field will absolutely make the whole team stronger and support the big picture. And I’ve said before, this community loves seeing the Homegrown players out there.
Matt: It’s the same in Foxborough. Some Revs fans were surprised that Sunday's starting XI didn’t include Buksa and Buchanan, but Arena pointed out afterward that giving less experienced (and homegrown) players game time was something he wanted to do more of this year. And maybe I’m pointing out the obvious, but we have to acknowledge that fatigue and reduced prep time is likely a factor. After a Wondo-ful comeback against RSL, coming back against a tough Seattle and in a third game against the Timbers in nine days is a challenge. We can say “but they’re getting paid, it’s their job,” but they’re human. It’s also their first experience with a mid-week game this season, and next time (June, against ATX, ORL, and LAG) I’m sure they’ll be more successful in terms of prep and the physical load. Also, looking ahead, the Quakes have to be anticipating filling in for Remedi - his yellow cards are piling up.
Josh: I’m sure he can handle the fine, but missing out on part of our key midfield strength as the team is finding its groove is not an option. I think fatigue is one of the biggest factors too. A lot of teams had two or three games this week, and how each club staffed each match - do they sub early, do they dig deeper into the bench - can make all the difference. For example, your squad, The Revs, bring Buksa off the bench to finish it in the third game of the week - so it’s manageable. I’m looking forward to seeing the Quakes rested and ready for SKC - last game at home for a while.
Matt: Probably most of the league is thrilled to have a full week of prep and recovery this week. Let’s hope for a renewed Quakes offense against SKC, whether it be Fierro, Espinoza, Yeuill, or Cowell. This is a winnable match, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for some amazing breakaways and bangers (but I’ll take a header or chipped GK!). And FWIW, I’m looking forward to the day when a great player is emerging and no one tweets “He’s headed to Europe for sure!” MLS is becoming a destination for a lot of players from overseas, and that quality and perception will continue to rise in the coming years.
Josh: Right? That came up on Twitter with our friends @MLSNowPodcast about the USMNT. The gameplay is getting faster and stronger and hopefully the community and the money is getting better! Expanding the league this year and next means that we can grow and support more and more great players here in the US! Let’s keep playing exciting soccer MLS, and Vamos SJ!
Rating on the Quake-o-meter Scale for Games 4,5, & 6 (Richter goes to 9, OURS goes to 10)
Final Score on the Quake-o-meter Richter Scale: 6/10
Current % chance of a San Jose/New England MLS Cup Final: keeping it at 10% for now, though NE keeps tipping the scales in its favor…
Twitter: @massmatt_matt @joshuaglenn