Coming off another disappointing road display that saw the San Jose Earthquakes fall in CONCACAF and MLS play to Canada’s Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps, respectively, the Earthquakes are back at home, in the comforts of Buck Shaw Stadium, where they have enjoyed a confident eleven game unbeaten streak. But today, when Sporting Kansas City walks on the field, a far more dangerous threat awaits the Quakes.
The last three home games in particular were wins against bottom barrel Chivas USA, the underachieving and injury battered Seattle Sounders, and the inconsistent Portland Timbers. Now I do not take anything away from the Quakes in disposing those sides, they played stalwart soccer and even defeated the better two out of the three, the Cascadia pair, without their assassin, Chris Wondolowski. Despite these achievements, San Jose still faces an uphill climb in the playoffs and will need to do everything in their power to contain their high flying guests, who sit atop of the Eastern Conference after easing to a 3-0 defeat against the New England Revolution.
Sporting come into the game with 36 goals overall and the most dominate aerial threat in the league. They have nine headed goals overall in the league thus far and their leading forward, Kei Kamara, is coming off a headed brace in the win over New England. Newly minted central defensive pairing, Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson, will have their young partnership put to the test today. Ideally the battle will be intriguing because of the physical presence these two defenders bring. Bernardez can tower over strikers and fortunately for San Jose in this case, most goals that they concede come on the ground. But that wont ease Earthquake breaths.
Sporting are one of the top teams on the road with a 5-3-3 record and a +2 goal differential. Along with Kamara, Claudio Beieler comes into the game with a team leading 9 goals, and US national team midfielders Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi. Fortunately for San Jose, the crafty Zusi, who leads Sporting in assists with six, picked up an injury during the MLS All-Star game and his inclusion in today’s match is in doubt. Yet despite this question, Sporting is not short of depth. Prior to the victory of New England, Sporting notched a 2-0 victory in Nicaragua over Real Esteli in the CONCACAF Champions League group opener just days before. Soony Saad, the versatile midfielder comes to mind and provides a useful for option for Peter Vermes’ squad.
On the other side of the touchline, Earthquakes’ manager Mark Watson will need Rafael Baca and Sam Cronin to be at their absolute best in pressing Sporting’s midfielders and communicating effectively with the Bernardez-Goodson defensive pairing. Last week, against the Whitecaps, the two center midfielders left much to be desired. If they are caught out of space and chasing the ball again, Sporting will eat the Earthquakes up and put an end to their fine home stand.
Going forward, the Earthquakes might find goals to be in short supply as they face the comparable defensive line of Kansas City lead by Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler. The center back duo can be the top defenders in the league on their day, with Besler being the reigning MLS Defender of the Year. They of course will have their hands busy with Wondolowski, who can finish among the best in the MLS and is coming off a two-goal game in his last outing at Buck Shaw Stadium. Swooping crosses from Shea Salinas to Wondo and Steven Lenhart for headers might not be enough to beat this pair. It will be interesting to see how San Jose adjusts if this strategy turns futile during the course of the match. If Salinas and Cordell Cato can take the defense on, on the ground, with incisive play and using Wondo as a facilitator and decoy, San Jose can purge the net.
San Jose face a tough challenge today, but as many teams with better prospects than San Jose have found out this season, leaving Buck Shaw with three points is no easy task.
You can follow Jeremy on twitter @jermg11
Jeremy is cofounder of Football and Futbol.