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Strangeness in San Jose: An “In the Box” preview of Sporting Kansas City’s Saturday foe

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Sporting heads to the home of the Goonies, where things are getting weird.

MLS: Portland Timbers at San Jose Earthquakes Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Soccer is a strange sport. Only in soccer can domination (and pool if you are like me sometimes…) semi-regularly end in a loss.

In their last two matches (both at home), San Jose held Seattle Sounders to one shot on goal; out-possessed Seattle and Portland Timbers dramatically; had expected goals of 1.5 and 2.2, respectively; and lost both matches while being shutout in each.

There are many things about the ‘Quakes that can make one shake with dread when their side heads to PayPal Park, like Sporting Kansas City will this Saturday for a 9pm battle.

Ghastly Goonies

The biggest dread for Sporting fans probably comes from the memory of #8 seed San Jose Earthquakes waltzing into Children’s Mercy Park and drawing #1 seed Kansas City after extra-time in the first playoff match for KC last November. That match was supposed to be just a stepping-stone, not a heart-stopping, damn-we-could-be-out-after-one type match. Eventually, of course, Tim Melia stopped three San Jose PKs and Sporting moved on.

In that match, the ‘Quakes scored two goals from width. The wings are where San Jose still thrives. Well, lately, they aren’t scoring off those crosses or getting goals from dangerous wingers Argentine Cristian Espinoza and Mexican Carlos Fierro. Against Seattle, 38 crosses. Against Portland, 37. Forcing six saves and four saves from those opponents overall.

Though two other significant weapons for San Jose have been underwhelming as well in the last two matches, Sporting cannot sleep on them. Midfielder Eric Remedi can cut opposing lines out of the play with his dribbles and his passes, sometimes from the backline. Up front, 17-year-old Cade Cowell (3 goals, 2 assists) is a threat not only in the open field on the counter, but the California native can also be clever around the box.

Then there is that damn Chris Wondolowski. “Damn” because he makes opposing fans curse. It was his goal at the death of regulation time in that November playoff match that spoiled Gianluca Busio’s apparent match-winner only a few minutes previous. What makes the original Goonie and MLS’s all-time leading scorer so scary? See here. (Andreu Fontas, Ilie, Nicholas Isimat-Mirin… please mark #8 where ever he is.) Wondo is usually a late sub, expect the same Saturday.

Sit. Rush. Maraud.

No, that’s not the go-to tactic in case of a mass Zombie attack (Be patient until they gather in mass, then rush and kill scores at a time…). Okay, maybe it is…

We all know that under former Chivas and River Plate Manager Matias Almeyda, San Jose employs a man-marking defensive tactic all over the pitch. Thus, spaces can be found by opposing attacks if they can weather the Earthquakes high press and offensive onslaughts.

Both Seattle and Portland conceded possession and then countered forward into space exposed by San Jose’s man-marking system.

Portland, in their Saturday evening 2-0 win at San Jose, burst through the middle of the field via Aaron Williamson off sloppy play by the hosts in the back for their first goal. The Timbers marauded through the middle with authority again in the 51st and 64th minutes.

However, it was San Jose’s right side of defense where Portland probed again and again, as did Seattle. The passing networks from mlssoccer.com (in that order) are below:

If Daniel Salloi, Gadi Kinda, and Luis Martins (or whoever) can exploit that space while Alan Pulido, Busio, et al, along with Fontas and Ilie from the back can find joy (and the right side attack provide a balance) up the middle, Sporting should find the net.

Yet, another avenue for Sporting success awaits. Back to that November match… Two of Sporting’s goals were from corner kicks to the front post in that now classic playoff tilt. One an Espinoza headed flick to the back post and the other a similar touch from Ilie.

Tactics and avenues for success against what many were lauding as a team that played some of the most beautiful soccer in MLS only a few weeks ago when San Jose was flying high with three wins in the first four most definitely exist.

But, strangely, I feel this match will not play easily for Kansas City.

2-2 is my call. Take the point and get out while you can.