The San Jose Earthquakes have featured the same starting eleven in all three games at the start of the 2018 MLS regular season, but the results have been mixed.
The slow start to the season has first-year head coach Mikael Stahre contemplating some changes to the team’s lineup and formation as the Earthquakes prepare to face the Philadelphia Union on the road this Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, PA, kickoff at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time, with live streaming provided by MLS Live.
“We have an idea about them,” Stahre said. “I think they have some fast and strong players, they use their speed a lot. And like all teams, they have their strong points and they have their weak points and it up to me and the coaching staff to make the right decisions in making the game plan and regarding the lineup.”
Having the same starting lineup throughout March has allowed Stahre to see how the players can develop as a unit. For the most part, there have been some promising developments, especially on offense — the Quakes have scored six goals in three games — but the team’s defensive shape and organization has not been consistent.
The right side of the formation, with Nick Lima and Magnus Eriksson playing along the sideline, has started the season strong. The two players have struck a good balance of offense and defense, with Eriksson, the Quakes newest Designated Player, looking exceptionally energetic. Stahre has a good combination working on the right, and both Lima and Eriksson have earned their spots in the lineup.
Centrally, both the centerback pairing of Yeferson Quintana and Harold Cummings and the midfielder duo of Anibal Godoy and Florian Jungwirth have run hot and cold in the Quakes three games. The defenders are brand new to MLS, so it not surprising that they are experiencing some growing pains learning the proclivities of the league’s attacking players.
For Godoy and Jungwirth in the center of the formation, their job is to link offense to defense. Depending on the situation, both have played more as a pair of number sixes — true defensive midfielders — and at other times they have switched roles to take on the number eight attacking midfielder position. Stahre said this week that he needs the two to find the right balance of responsibilities, and that he is encouraged by their progress three games into the season.
“We must find a balance,” Stahre said. “We can’t just sit back, and we can’t travel to Philadelphia and be naive either, so we must find a balance. Actually, I think we had an okay performance in Kansas City, and we went there with a good mentality and good game plan. So, generally speaking, we will need to follow our own ideas and our own plan, but we must adjustment it to this opponent.”
Along the left side of the starting lineup 4-4-2 has been the Quakes Achilles’ heel this season. In part due to the Godoy/Jungwirth pairing still determining their best positioning, Shea Salinas and Vako have been put under tremendous pressure by opponents. Vako, more offensively oriented — he leads the team with two goals and two assists — and Salinas, a converted midfielder playing as a full back, haven’t developed a partnership as quickly as is needed, and the majority of the goals conceded this year have started from this side of the field.
Up top, forwards Danny Hoesen and Chris Wondolowski generally play with the Dutch striker higher up the field and the Quakes captain dropping into the midfield line — a 4-2-3-1 look to the overall formation. Hoesen has done yeoman's work as a target forward in these situations, and he has knocked in two goals in the process. Wondolowski doesn’t have the speed to cover large areas of the field, but his experience allows him to clog some of the space between the forward and midfield lines when required.
Stahre has not used his bench too often this season, with some substitutions coming as a result of injuries and not tactical concerns. Quincy Amarikwa, Tommy Thompson, Jackson Yueill, and Fatai Alashe have combined for six appearances and only 57 minutes of play. Midfielder Jahmir Hyka, an important contributor last season, has yet to make an appearance this season. Defender Joel Qwiberg, signed as a left back in the offseason, made his first matchday 18 last weekend against NYCFC. All warrant further consideration as Stahre looks at changes to his lineup.
“I trust the players, and we have a really good team,” Stahre said. “We have many good players on the bench, and we have great players out of the 18 also. So, sometimes a coach makes these kinds of decisions, and afterwards you can say well done, and sometimes you have to be better next time.”
Overall, the tactics and formation have been good, but not great. Stahre has a chance to make some adjustments ahead of the game at Philly, and it is likely that he will use his assessment of the first month of the season to do so.
Who do you want to see in the Earthquakes starting eleven, and what formation would you like to see Stahre employ? Which bench players need to get more minutes, either as starters or substitutes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.