First up: Derrick responds to Nerdy's three questions about Friday's game.
1 . RSL is winless since June 22nd victory over NYCFC at Rio Tinto. They're still unbeaten at home, but they've hit a sticky patch -- what happened? What needs to happen to restore their winning ways?
This is the million dollar question. This past month has been reminiscent of last season for RSL, and in the worst way. Watching draw after draw at home is almost excruciating. Midfielder Luke Mulholland was interviewed after the home draw against Montreal July 9th and had a quote that sums up my thoughts well:
"Still haven't lost at home this season and you can take that as a positive, but on the flip side of things we've only picked up 3 points of a possible 9, so sometimes it's better to win a couple game and lose a game than to tie 3, so I think we just need to raise our level a little bit."
Since this interview, RSL lost in Vancouver 2-0 and drew 0-0 with New England at home. That's a total of 3 points out of a possible 15 in the winless stretch, including 3 out of 9 points at home. The only word to describe that kind of play is dismal.
As Luke said, RSL is still undefeated at home. But this hardly matters if the team isn't getting full points from the home games. As for the exact reason, it is probably a combination of a lot of things. We could blame international call-ups, injuries to key players, and schedule congestion for poor play. I can't help but speculate there is a bigger reason for the month of frustration.
The simplest solution for month without a win is to go out and win a match. Maybe even more than just win, if RSL was able to put together a really solid victory with couple goals, it would do wonders for team and fan morale. Will they be able to do that against San Jose? That remains to be seen. But an authoritative victory at home would at least be a step back in the right direction.
2 . Nick Rimando is in his tenth season at RSL between the pipes - at 37, how is he keeping up his stellar shot stopping? (and can you say "stellar shot stopping" five times quickly?).
Rimando is one of the most decorated players in MLS, and either holds or is close to breaking most of the ‘keeper records for the league. To say that he is consistent is almost an understatement. His penalty saving record is inhuman. He is known for his footwork and distribution from the box. And he's 37 years old.
Rimando has said in the past that comments about his size (he is 5'10", considered small for a goalkeeper) have always motivated him to perform. He has also done a great job of taking care of his body. Goalkeepers always tend to last longer than field players do, and maintain a high level of competitiveness. I don't want to speculate on how much longer Rimando will be playing, but there hasn't been a big drop in his skill yet.
Jurgen Klinsmann has called Nick up for a few USMNT matches this year as a ‘keepers coach instead of an alternate player. Though Jeff Cassar hasn't let him go for all of the games because he was needed in Salt Lake, it looks like he will continue to play a role in the grooming of the Stars and Stripes stellar shot-stoppers in American soccer after his time on the field is up.
3 . How much fun was this week's friendly against Inter Milan, and what was the impact on the team's preparation for Friday's matchup with the Earthquakes?
The Inter Milan friendly was historic for RSL. It was the first time that they faced a European club at Rio Tinto. This was the third friendly against a European club for RSL, who faced Everton and Real Madrid in their old shared stadium.
The friendly was an incredible experience for young RSL and USL Pro Real Monarchs players who were called up for the match. Most of all, this game was a chance for the young, unproven, and fringe players to carve a niche for themselves. The game was televised both locally and in Italy on Sky Sports. The exposure for RSL was incredible.
Because the RSL roster is so thin this season, a chance for younger players to prove their worth was exactly what RSL needed. A chance to play against a top European club is fantastic experience for a young player to have. This game was a great way for the starters to run around and get loose for 25 minutes in preparation for the Quakes, and for young players to prove they deserve a run out Friday.
Depth on the wings and in central midfield has been the biggest problem this season, and a few players made good on their chances to impress and prove they deserve a shot in the starting XI. Jordan Allen and Omar Holness both looked dangerous in the CAM role. Olmes Garcia has been deployed as a winger and striker this season, and came in as striker for the match. Andrew Brody played RW and also made some good runs and had a few good looks during his stint with the first team. Hopefully this match gave Jeff Cassar more confidence to give the younger players more time during the second half of the season. A few of them may even start against San Jose to give the worn out starters some rest.
And now here are Nerdy's responses to Derrick's three questions:
1. Tommy Thompson has appeared 39 times for the Quakes since being signed in 2014. He has been selected for three straight MLS All-Star Homegrown games, and continues to improve his game. What are the fan expectations for Tommy, and do you think he'll reach them?
For a player who still can't buy a beer, Tommy Thompson has been around the San Jose Earthquakes for a long, long time. I remember seeing him play out of the Academy for the reserves back around 2012 or so. He only played one year of college soccer at Indiana University - five goals and one assist in 12 matches earned him the Big Ten Freshman of the year in 2013 - so the potential has always there.
Since he signed his Homegrown Player contract with the Earthquakes on March 14, 2014, he's been in and out of the senior side, and commuting up and down I-80 to Sacramento, where he makes appearances with San Jose's USL Pro affiliate club Sacramento Republic FC.
The fans are broadly divided into two camps - the ‘More Tommy Now' camp that thinks he should be getting more playing time based on his speed and obvious skill juggling the ball, and the ‘Wait for Tommy' camp that would like to see him develop better finishing skills, and which would guarantee his automatic inclusion into the starting line-up.
It's important to remember that he's still only 20, and while the jury's still out on his current soccer IQ, hopefully some of that should rub off on the youngster by being around the veterans In the squad.
2. As San Jose sits, they are four points under the playoff line in the Western Conference. What chance do they have to reach the playoffs? Is the season a success even if they end up missing the cut?
Fair and no.
Dom Kinnear's had a rough time of late putting together a healthy squad. Key defender Clarence Goodson is now out for the season after surgery for a bulging disk, and I've seen some internet rumors that DP Innocent Emeghara is being courted by Aston Villa (Innocent has been MIA for most of this season for the Quakes - maybe he and Steven Lenhart are surfing in Santa Cruz).
On the bright side, Simon Dawkins is returning to the form that earned him so many fans during his spell here in 2012. His wonder strike as the Quakes were reduced to 9 men in last week's match against Toronto FC really energized the side and electrified the crowd - and is hopefully the turning point in improving the team's chances of making the playoffs.
The Quakes haven't made the playoffs since 2012 - that was two managers ago, and Dom absolutely needs to solidify his position in that role by making sure the Quakes are in the post season mix; that's the minimum. Any progress in the postseason is gravy.
3. The building of Avaya stadium led to a 29% increase in attendance at Quakes matches in 2015 and also the chance to host the 2016 All Star Game. What else has the new stadium done to improve the fan experience in San Jose?
Cup holders -- beer spillage is way down, and that's always a good thing. On the down side, the chiropractors of San Jose have noticed a downturn in business, now that the fans are not crammed knee to shoulder blade on the cramped bleachers of Buck Shaw.
Seriously though, after six years wait, it's very comfortable, open and very blue (save the red seats that spell GO Quakes in binary for the local tech geeks). I find mostly plusses - just one minus that the players are less accessible to regular (non-club seat) fans post game.
The open end of the stadium looks across San Jose airport to the east bay hills, though the view is partially blocked by the Longest Outdoor Bar in North America (a.k.a. LOBINA -- a bar so big it has its own Twitter account) -- and that's not exactly a bad thing either. The large picnic area behind LOBINA houses various food trucks. Stadium fare is delicious and we have local craft brews and worldwide beers for those cup holders.
At 18,000, the capacity is smaller than many Bay Area sporting venues, but the proximity of the fans to the field is second to none. The fans really raised the roof last week - two red cards (since rescinded) will really do that to a crowd. The players and coaches all remarked on the fan participation, and how it spurred on the Quakes to their improbable success. It rocked - and team president Dave Kaval has the seismograph to prove it.
The only other improvement I can think of is that it would be great to attend a few games at Avaya Stadium in November.