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Three Questions: Sporting KC vs San Jose Match Preview

Getting intel on the Earthquakes ahead of Saturday night’s match.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Sporting Kansas City Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With a dominant 3-0 win and players back from injury, Sporting KC really hit stride last week. Now, they’re carrying all that confidence to California to face a San Jose Earthquakes team that hasn’t scored in 183 minutes.

Thank you to Alicia, from over at Center Line Soccer, who took the time to give us some insight on this weekend’s victim opponent. Check out my responses on CLS for the other half of the classic “3 Questions But Really Six”.

San Jose is coming off two straight shutout losses, which followed three straight wins. Which is closer to what you expect to see from the team this year?

I was optimistic the Earthquakes would be better this year, and so far, I’d say they have been. They’ve been in every game to date, and while they have an even 3W-3L-0D record so far, all their wins have been impressive in their own way and the losses have been close.

I still think the Quakes are not at the level of the top contenders in the Western Conference, but can they be good, rack up a good number of wins, be a tough ask for every single opponent? Yes, I think they can do that this year. Their style of play really seems to be second nature at this point, and I’d like to see them add a couple more starting-caliber players to shore up their prospects, but I expect them to be competitive at minimum this season, likely looking to both make the playoffs and win a game in the postseason. If they do that, who knows how far they can go?

Fans in KC are well aware of, and tired of, Chris Wondolowski. But he’s often only an option off the bench now. Are there any youngsters or newcomers Sporting fans should watch out for?

First, I’d say you should still be wary of Wondo. He came off the bench against Real Salt Lake and scored a late brace to flip the game in San Jose’s favor, so he’s still capable of changing games, even in limited minutes.

But there’s been one youngster who has really impressed so far this season, in Cade Cowell. The 17-year-old was MLS Player of the Week the week before Wondo, and he has two goals and three assists so far this season. Cowell has a fully adult frame and really seems to be finding his footing in MLS this year, and he’s been a regular starter. If he continues to develop, then he could be a really special player.

The big newcomer is Eduardo “Chofís” Lopez, from Chivas. He needed a change of scenery and he’s been reunited with Matias Almeyda, with whom he previously had the best run of his career. Chofís basically plays “in the hole” behind the central striker and he’s got one goal on the season. If he can really become a regular contributor, then much of what ailed San Jose last season, a lack of goals, will be resolved.

What style of play and/or gameplan does Matias Almeyda have in store for visiting Sporting KC?

Almeyda plays the same plan, broadly speaking, every game: Press the opponent, hard, when they have the ball, and pass and play through their pressure when in possession. The man-marking system means the Quakes don’t play in neat banks, and so the players kind of migrate all over the field, the result being that games feel like pure chaos.

The Quakes are comfortable in chaotic games, but for the first couple seasons under Almeyda, that could sometimes be enough to really fluster opponents. Now, San Jose seem to really have a beat on the style and have been making subtle tweaks to get better, but their opponents are also getting a bit savvier at playing them. Some opponents have tried to out-press the Quakes, and that’s had basically a 50-50 success rate so far, while other opponents have been pushed by the Earthquakes but getting pinned back deep means they have succeeded in keeping San Jose off the board. So there are different approaches for opponents to try. But I think if San Jose is outworking their opponent and their intensity is highest — something I know Sporting also like to do — then they have a chance in just about every game they play, regardless of who they’re facing. We’ll see how it goes for this one against a tricky SKC side.