The San Jose Earthquakes are back in the Bay Area to play two of the most critical games in Avaya Stadium history. If they can find a way to get points in both, they will put themselves in a pretty good position going into next week’s Decision Day match against Portland Timbers. First, they must face the Philadelphia Union who is in third place in the East but limping into Wednesday’s clash in San Jose.
Manager: Jim Curtin
Current Record: 15-9-7 3rd in the Eastern Conference
Last Five Matches: L-W-W-D-L
The 2016 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year is not having his best season statistically but is still a formidable goalkeeper. The 28-year-old Jamaican has allowed three goals in his last four matches including holding Atlanta United to one goal on September 1. He is capable of having bad games on the road as was seen on July 28 when he gave up four goals to the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo. All four of those goals came from inside the 18, so they Quakes are going to have to find ways to get close to Blake’s goal. A task made more difficult without their two most potent weapons on offense. Both Chris Wondolowski and Cristian Espinoza will miss the pivotal match after both were sent off in last week’s loss against Atlanta United.
Raymon Gaddis, Jack Elliott, Auston Trusty, Kai Wagner
Both Gaddis and Wagner usually play higher up in the middle third of the pitch to help put pressure on opposing defenses, but only one has made an impact on that side of the ball this season. Gaddis has six assists, tied with midfielder Jamiro Monteiro for most assists on the team and leading all defenders in MLS in that category.
While a defense that contributes on offense is always a welcome sight, their main objective is keeping the opposing team off the ball, and this is where this group has struggled, especially on the road. Of the 45 goals allowed by the Union, this season 28 has been given up away from home. They seem to really have trouble when opposing teams get in their 18-yard-box, they are tied for the league lead in giving up penalty goals at five. Magnus Errickson and Shea Salinas, or whoever the managerial staff decides to go with, at the top of their formation are going to have to find a way to get near Blake’s goal.
Jamiro Monteiro, Haris Medunjanin, Marco Fabian, Alejandro Bedoya
As I wrote above the Union love to play in the middle third of the pitch and this group is excellent at moving the ball around trying to create chaos so their potent striker can find space to get a shot off. Like the backline, the left side of the formation continues is the danger zone for opposing teams. While Medunjanin likes to hang back and help Trusty and Elliot on defense, he is also capable of moving up the pitch to find a teammate that creates a scoring opportunity as shown by his four assists this season.
Monteiro, who usually lines up to the left of him, is an offensive threat who has accumulated four goals and six assists in his 23 appearances. Bedoya is well known to MLS fans and holds down the right side of the midfield for Curtin. He has three goals to go along with three assists which is about what he has been producing for the Union since joining them in 2016.
Fabian is all over the pitch, which can cause issues for the person who is in charge of chasing him around in Matias Almeyda’s man-marking system. He has six goals so far this season but hasn’t scored since early August, so he has definitely cooled down over the summer.
Fafa Picault, Kacper Przybylko
Fabian may have cooled down since August, but Przybylko has absorbed that heat for himself. The 26-year-old German has scored 14 goals so far this season including five since Fabian’s last goal. He is by far their most dangerous player on offense having scored eight more goals than his nearest teammate. If the Quakes defense can find a way to neutralize him, you have a better shot at staying in the game. Stopping Przybylko doesn’t solve all your problems on defense though as his battery-mate Picault has four goals to go along with four assists this season.
The Philadelphia Union are another excellent Eastern Conference team that the Quakes can beat even if they are short-handed. They pose a lot of danger on offense and the Quakes defense has been more than shaky at times, just look at that last-minute collapse last week against Atlanta. The Quakes are a strong team at home, and even though the game is on Wednesday night, Avaya Stadium should be packed and rocking. Being without Wondo, Espizona, and Matias Almeyda is going to be challenging to overcome but anyone that has been watching this team all season knows that everyone on the roster is ready and willing to contribute whenever they get the call.