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Sporting KC v San Jose Earthquakes: Preview, Predictions, Stats and Roster Changes

SKC hit the road against the unpredictable Quakes.

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MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Sporting Kansas City Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC @ San Jose Earthquakes

When: Saturday, May 22, 2021 at 9:00 PM CT (Kickoff 9:08)

Where: PayPal Park

How to Watch/Stream: | Bally Sports KC (regionally) | Bally Sports Midwest (regionally) |
ESPN+ (out of market)
How to Listen: Sports Radio 810 WHB | La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish)

Most of the attention heading into this week’s match will probably be around the wild playoff matchup between these two teams to end San Jose’s season in 2020. And rightfully so. It was a crazy match with a history making performance by Tim Melia during the penalty shootout, but I want to go another direction.

I want to go back to the spring of 2019. I wrote a preview for a SKC/SJ game, that without even needing to look it up, said something to the effect of, this Sporting Kansas City team is capable of beating anyone. They had just eliminated Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions League (sure, Sporting had been subsequently bounced from CCL by Monterrey, but that was Monterrey! They were giants!). They had some middling MLS performances, but we were all chalking it up to fatigue from all the congestion.

It kind of sounds like Sporting’s last week. The team that beat Austin FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps, look capable of beating anyone. Sure, they slumped midweek on the road in Houston, but they outplayed the Dynamo, it was just fatigue. Or it was just injuries.

Well two years ago, Sporting went to San Jose and I sat in the stands that faithful day. And the game was an unmitigated disaster. Matt Besler got hurt and the team was crushed 4-1 (it was 3-0 before Besler left). It’s arguable the beginning of the end for Besler in KC. He dealt with injuries much of the next two seasons and now is gone. SKC went on to endure their worst season in a decade and miss the playoffs in 2019.

I don’t want to put too much on one game, as it is only the seventh game of the season. But how Sporting play could tell us what kind of team they are. If they are the team that created endless chances in the last three games and actually keep finding a way to finish, it feels like the sky is the limit.

Then again, San Jose are weird and hard to play against. Maybe we should not put too much weight on it.

San Jose’s 2020 & 2021 Results

2020: The Quakes were in their second season under esteemed coach Matias Almeyda and they showed continual signs of improvement. In an expanded playoff they were the eight seed and drew first seeded Sporting KC in the playoffs and gave them all they could handle in a 3-3 draw that was ultimately decided in penalties. This team knows how to give Sporting fits.

2021: SJ currently sit in 5th place, a point behind third place Kansas City. They have lost two in a row, but it was to the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. Before that they had won three straight against FC Dallas, D.C. United and Real Salt Lake. The ageless wonder Chris Wondolowski came on late against RSL to bag two goals for the comeback.

What’s Changed for San Jose Since 2020?

OUT: The Quakes continue to be a team that doesn’t change much year-to-year. Despite Almeyda wanting to play a certain way, he’s not being allowed to quickly turn over the roster and get the players he needs. The team traded fullback Nick Lima for a big lump of GAM to Austin FC and the Trees (is that what we call them?) also drafted their striker, Danny Hoesen in the expansion draft. They are also more recently without Vako and Magnus Eriksson.

IN: Despite limited moves, Almeyda’s hand can be felt on the roster. He added Javier “Chofis” Lopez to account for the 2020 midseason loss of midfielder Eriksson. Chofis previously played for Almeyda at Chivas and is asked to play the 10 in Northern California. The team’s other “big” acquisition is Eric Remedi from Atlanta United. He’s another holding midfielder to play next to young star Jackson Yuiell.

Technically not a new signing, but an emerging player to watch is young Cade Cowell. He’s just 17 and he debuted in 2020 but he’s now their starting striker and he’s another American you will probably hear about being sold abroad in the coming years.

The final addition to note is defender Luciano Abecasis. He also played for Almeyda, though this time at River Plate. He is the replacement for Nick Lima at right back.

Injuries*

Sporting KC

OUT - None

QUESTIONABLE - Andreu Fontas (adductor), Nicolas Isimat-Mirin (hamstring), Graham Zusi (quad), Johnny Russell (groin)

*This has been updated with the removal of Roberto Puncec but the addition of Zusi and Fontas.

San Jose

OUT - Jacob Akanyirige (right hip), Marcos Lopez (left foot)

QUESTIONABLE - Carlos Fierro (left thigh)

Stats

Sporting KC

GOALS: Alan Pulido (3), Gadi Kinda, Daniel Salloi (2), Gianluca Busio, Ilie Sanchez (1)

ASSISTS: Khiry Shelton (2), Daniel Salloi, Johnny Russell, Luis Martins, Gadi Kinda (1)

San Jose

GOALS: Cade Cowell, Jackson Yueill, Chris Wondolowski (2), Cristian Espinoza, Paul Marie, Oswaldo Alanis, Eduardo Lopez (1)

ASSISTS: Cowell (3), Carlos Fierro (2), Shea Salina (1), Luciano Abecasis, Tanner Beason, Espinoza (1)

Starting XI Predictions

Look for this closer to game day.

Score Predictions

Let’s talk man-marking. You can’t preview a Quakes game without doing so. San Jose play a style that is unlike any other MLS team. Watch throughout the game as Earthquakes players follow their man all over the field. It can be very effective by forcing turnovers in bad spots, or it can be a freaking disaster in games San Jose gets crushed in. Sporting have struggled against it at times, even when by all other measures they appeared to be the better team.

If Sporting are forced to play Ilie Sanchez at CB again, it could work because he, Fontas and Busio playing deep could pass out of the pressure. But if they turn the ball over, there is a lack of speed to deal with Cowell and Espinoza. Cristian Espinoza on the wing is particularly dangerous against Luis Martins. Espinoza frankly picked apart Amadou Dia in the playoffs. Hard to imagine Martins could do much worse, though he at times seems more focused on offense than his defensive responsibility.

Turnovers are what will kill a team against SJ. Sporting minimized them against Vancouver, but that was Vancouver. Then of course there is Wondo who always seems to find a way to score. Particularly against SKC.

I’m still not convinced of Sporting KC being all the way there. I think they can be really good, but I think there is just something about SJ that is hard to deal with. And playing on the road is always a bit tougher too. I’ll keep predicting bad results for now and hope KC keep proving me wrong.

3-2 Earthquakes Win

What do you think? Predictions in the comments are welcome. Let’s chat about it.

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