The dog days of summer are here for the San Jose Earthquakes, and they find themselves in the middle of a very close playoff race. Earlier in the season, they dominated Sporting Kansas City at home 4-1 which marked the start of the Quakes magical run. Now every team knows how dangerous the Quakes are and they have a target on their back. Let see who may be taking aim at them this Saturday.
Manager: Peter Vermes
Current Record: 7-11-7 10th in the Western Conference
The 2017 goalkeeper of the year is having a forgettable season so far. His 43 goals allowed is already a high watermark for his career, and they still have nine games left on their season. If Sporting KC is going to make a run at the final playoff spot in the West, they are going to need more consistency from Melia. After back-to-back clean sheets in July, he has conceded 10 goals in the last five matches. On Wednesday in Orlando Melia gave up a goal on the only game he faced all night which is a bad look for Melia, but the defense in front of him kept Orlando City from getting many chances. If the Quakes can’t find many opportunities on Saturday, they are going to have to take advantage of the ones that they do create.
Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic, Graham Smith
Back in April when these teams first met coach, Peter Vermes started Yohan Croizet, an attacking midfielder, as his starting left-back and the Quakes put up four goals against Sporting. This was part of a three-week experiment where Kansas City gave up 10 goals in three matches. He also started Botond Barath as his center-back, but Barath did not play on Wednesday due to a back injury so I would expect Vermes to take it easy on him with so many games in a week, he is listed as a game-time decision.
This is a hardened veteran group that has given up 44 goals this season and is tired from playing their third match in a week including one in hot and muggy Orlando. The Quakes offense needs to take advantage of that and put pressure on these guys so they can take their shots at Melia.
Benny Feilhaber, Felipe Gutierrez, Ilie Sanchez
Feilhaber is back in Kansas City where he spent the 2013-2017 seasons and is hoping to be a factor in this match. Since his return, he has no goals and one assist, which he is sure to want to change in front of the home crowd on Saturday. Gutierrez was one of if not the best player for Vermes when these two teams met in April. He was responsible for controlling the pace in the midfield and scored Sporting’s lone goal, a penalty in the 66th minute.
Sanchez is a defensive midfielder with a sweet pass. He has a pass completion percentage of 86% on an average of 60 passes per match, including four assists. This is the type of player that Anibal Godoy loves to menace and shut down, but it looks like the Quakes will be without the Panamanian for at least another couple of matches.
Erik Hurtado, Johnny Russell, Gianluca Busio
If your defense and goalkeeper are suspect, you are going to have to expect a significant output from your forwards, and so far that group has turned in a “meh” performance for Vermes. The high point was the 7-1 dismantling of the Montreal Impact on March 30, but there have been a lot of low scoring affairs since then. Kansas City has been held to one goal or less in 17 of their 25 matches, and on average they are conceding more goals at home than they are scoring. They score an average of 1.8 goals at home while allowing 2 goals per match.
The Quakes are definitely a different team without Cristian Espinoza but missing one player is no longer an excuse for this team. Luckily the injury to Espinoza’s ankle doesn’t seem to be too severe, and he should be ready to go very soon. The Quakes also bolstered their offense with the additions of Carlos Fierro and Andres Rios who probably didn’t expect to be called into action so soon, but sometimes that’s just the way the ball bounces.
Points on the road are hard to come by as we all saw last week against the Colorado Rapids, but the Quakes are the better team in the middle of a playoff run playing a team that is struggling at home. They need to take advantage of that.