Two months into the MLS season and six years following their departure to Houston, the Zombie Quakes return to Buck Shaw Stadium to take on the boys in blue-and-black. While most of the faces have changed — talisman Brian Ching is still out injured — the ZQ’s still have tough-as-nails midfielder Brad Davis manning the center of the pitch, and San Jose will need to keep a careful eye on him. The rivalry may have dampened somewhat over the last couple of years, but the invading orange interlopers nonetheless provide a formidable opponent, and the Earthquakes will need to rely on a few important rules to earn the win.
Rule #1 — “Cardio”
Houston comes into Buck Shaw looking to earn their second straight victory over the Earthquakes, while the home side looks to continue their winning ways at the Buck by earning their third three-pointer on the trot. Key to the Quakes success tonight will be the pace of the attack against a very stingy Houston defense. Starting wingers Ramiro Corrales and Anthony Ampaipitakwong are not the quickest players on the team, but with their ability to maintain possession, outside backs Bobby Convey and Steven Beitashour can run into space and exploit the deep wings to get crosses into the area. Their fitness will also be tested running the other way, as their defensive assignments will hope to counter on the Quakes.
Rule #8 — “Get a kickass partner”
With Chris Wondolowski and Ryan Johnson out of the picture, head coach Frank Yallop has spent a week of training evaluating the best fit to pair with Steven Lenhart on the forward line. The winner? Khari Stephenson will look to play off of the blond-haired target man and use his powerful shot as a weapon on long distance scoring opportunities. Also, with the Zombie Quakes potentially pushing Geoff Cameron back into a defensive pairing with Bobby Boswell, Stephenson provides another big body to battle for space in the area on set pieces. Throw in Bobby Burling moving forward as well, and the Quakes will have some good targets on free kicks and corner kicks.
Rule #29 — “The buddy system”
As previously mentioned, Corrales and Convey are set to man the left flank for San Jose Saturday night, and they look to continue in their positional swap that started last weekend in Chicago. Corrales and Convey are somewhat interchangeable between defense and midfield, but the new set-up seems ideal to take advantage of their strengths. Corrales is a great distributor of the ball, and can also provide a good target on set-pieces. Convey has the speed to track opposing wingers, plus a good field sense as to when to keep possession and when to “hoof” the all forward. Together, they function well in knowing when to overlap run and when to position themselves more defensively.
Rule #32 — “Enjoy the little things”
After a stellar match against the Fire last weekend, Anthony Ampaipitakwong is set to make the start at right midfield against the ZQ’s. Already possessing a high soccer IQ, Ampai is quickly showing his ability to deliver the ball into dangerous areas as well as link with the central midfielders in possession situations. While still a liability on defense, the rookie will have speedy outside back Steven Beitahour protecting the right side of the field, allowing him more freedom to move into the attack with Stephenson and Lenhart. Ampai also looks to be the Quakes chief corner kick taker, and has a chance to build on last week’s two assist performance by finding his teammate targets in CK situations.
Rule #22 — “When in doubt, know your way out”
With Ike Opara’s unfortunate foot injury on Thursday, big Bobby Burling looks the likely replacement as Jason Hernandez’s partner in central defense. Positioned just ahead of them will be central midfield duo Sam Cronin and Brad Ring as defense-first minded players capable of disrupting the Houston attackers. Together, the four Quakes players need to operate smoothly in all distribution in order to avoid turnovers and unnecessary lumping forward of the ball. If they can utilize the central field space in the San Jose half effectively, getting the ball to the foot of the wingers and to the chest of Lenhart, the Earthquakes stand a good chance of winning the possession statistics battle with the ZQ’s.
Rule #17 — “
Don’t be a hero”
Saturday night’s game should feature dynamic midfielder Simon Dawkins’ first playing minutes since being sidelined following surgery on both his calves. Combining technical ability with good off-the-ball movement, Dawkins will have a chance to be the difference in the Earthquakes attack when he makes his late-game appearance. If Cronin and Ring are able to soften up the core of the Houston midfield, Dawkins will have plenty of space to operate facing toward the goal. And if the hometown side is trailing, the Tottenham loanee might provide the spark off the bench — like he did in the season opener against Real Salt Lake — that gives his side the best chance to get back in the game.
Rule #12 — “Bounty paper towels”
This one is more for the fans in the stands. The weather is expected to be damp tonight at the Buck, so dress accordingly. While the storm should not be as dramatic as the season opening “Great Deluge”, the weather will play a factor for both teams. Avoid costly mistake on the dampened field, and the Earthquakes have to be considered favorites tonight against the Zombie Quakes invasion.