When Lady Luck smiles upon you, don't change a thing!Fernando Clavijo, who might not call it luck, is in the enviable position of having injuries work in his favor. When he sat down with his staff during the pre-season, I doubt he planned on a starting line-up that looks like the one we'll see on Saturday night. Injuries to Pablo Mastroeni, Conor Casey, Mike Petke, Ugo Ihemelu, Mehdi Ballouchy, Jovan Kirvoski (whether injured or just in the doghouse), and others, have forced the Rapids to play the young guys.
If Fernando is smart he'll leave everything alone, continuing with what works. For the Quakes and our pre-match analysis, this means we'll see a 4-5-1, consisting Bouna in goal, Kimura, Erpen, Keel and Burciaga in the back, with DiRaimondo and LaBrocca sitting in front of the back four with Cooke and Clark wide. Christian Gomez may be out injured so we may see the Brazilian, Rafael Gomes, in the middle. Up top we'll have Omar Cummings, with Herc Gomez his sub.
On paper one could look at the back four and get a little greedy. Bouna can be spectacular in one instance and poor in the next. Shoot from distance and follow everything up. His kicking is so bad the Quakes need to pay attention, and not let him distribute with a throw. In defense, Kimura and Keel are just young enough to get exposed. Erpen in my book is not a good player — he takes too many risks — so run at him, pressure him. Burciaga is kind of a nut, a little loose in the tackle, and loves to get forward. He has a powerful shot/cross but sometimes I am not sure he even looks up — he just smashes the ball into an area. Quakes fans may remember his cross to Jack Jewsbury in the 2004 playoffs, who was not his intended target, and the goal that followed. If healthy, Pablo Mastroeni could start but if I am Clavijo, I don't make this change. Your back four has logged the minutes and played well enough to keep the team atop the Western Conference, so stick with them.
Saturday night the Rapids will live and die with the play of their midfield. LaBrocca and DiRaimondo are the young legs and their roles are fairly simple: destroy, win the ball, then get it to someone in maroon. To date this has been very effective. The danger guys are Gomez, Cooke and Clark. Gomez is very good and can expose a team through his passing ability. He shoots from distance and can be lethal. If it is Gomes for an injured Gomez, the Brazilian has good feet, is young enough to run, and will look to join late. Cooke we know is a fine crosser of the ball and Clark loves to run at people. Opponents that collapse on Gomez free up the wide players, and both Cooke and Clark are in form. Cummings has one goal in the three matches he has played, so outright he should not the focus of all San Jose's attention. The one statistic that stands out for Colorado? Three matches, seven goals by seven players.
So how does San Jose handle the red hot Rapids? Three points would be nice, but an ugly draw is acceptable in my book. San Jose must leave Colorado with a point. I'll turn Earthquakes blue repeating myself but the keys to this game remain pretty much the same as those I espoused for the Chicago match. Above all, San Jose must not allow the Rapids to score first. Chasing the game a mile above sea level will not work. The team needs to stay compact, organized, and keep its shape. Force the Rapids to chase a little by keeping the ball. Possession may allow the Quakes to get forward, committing a few bodies into the area.
While Kamara may be more effective outside the box, Glinton needs to be in the eighteen to score. Ronnie O'Brien will be busy trying to keep Clark from getting involved, so possession is vital. The more Cooke and Clark are forced to defend the better. Keep the ball away from the danger guys!
If Kamara can run in behind the defense maybe O'Brien can find him. Prior to that, though, Kamara must hold the ball up. Without holding the ball, he doesn't allow the rest of the group to join. Also, he would be more effective by being a little less predictable, not trying to turn every time. He should try to lure the defenders into chasing him back a little, then get behind.
The middle of the park will be crowded so we need simple quick passes from Corrales and Grabavoy, as well as good performances by Guererro and O'Brien. It is likely we'll see Johnson, Salinas and possibly Cunliffe earlier than in the previous matches.
Once again, Corrales will need to stay in front of the back four and try to pressure Gomez (or Gomes) enough to get his head down. Everyone will have to help defend, primarily staying with runners. Joe Cannon will need to keep Ryan Cochrane and Nick Garcia alert to late runs from the Rapids midfield. Colorado has had success this year by having the one target forward pull a center back out, only to have the space filled by a late-running midfielder. Finally, no silly fouls near the box. Gomez and Burciaga can more than handle direct play and Cooke can deliver a quality ball if the set piece is just wide of the eighteen.
In summary, San Jose needs to move and keep the ball, defend as a group, keep their shape in defense and attack! A scoreless game at the half is great and would enable the Quakes to look for that break when Colorado presses the game and punish them.
Time for a result. Hopefully three points but one will do.
(Tim Hanley is a former assistant coach for the Earthquakes, Dynamo, and Galaxy and also played for the Quakes in the NASL.)