The San Jose Earthquakes played a 0-0 draw against the LA Galaxy Sunday in a home California Clasico clash. Often, a scoreless draw against the biggest rival would be a letdown, but given the Quakes’ reeling form, it was a step in the right direction.
Now what? With another game right around the corner, Wednesday against the Portland Timbers, here’s how the Earthquakes can build on a good first step Sunday.
The importance of defense
Yes, it’s obvious, but the big difference between Thursday’s 7-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders and Sunday’s draw against the Galaxy was the defensive performance. The Quakes didn’t fold like a card table vs. LA, instead frustrating the likes of Cristian Pavon and Sebastian Lletget, who have both been attacking forces in recent weeks.
Given the talent gap between San Jose and nearly all of their opponents — a point head coach Matias Almeyda openly admits most times when he speaks to the media — they can’t afford to hope they can outscore an opponent in a shootout. It worked against the Vancouver Whitecaps, but they may be the only team in the Western Conference whose talent level is broadly equivalent to the Quakes’. Pretty much every other team has the firepower to kill the Earthquakes in short order if the defense isn’t on the level.
It also appears that Guram Kashia has proved he belongs next to Oswaldo Alanis in central defense. Kashia is a rugged defender who can at times make audacious attempts to climb 14 feet to stop a ball on a counterattack to no avail, but he can body up opponents better than any defender on the roster and he has a pretty good rapport with Oswaldo Alanís.
Volume chances are needed
One of the biggest quandaries since San Jose have returned from their exploits at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando is their scoring chances have mostly dried up. After hanging tough in their first game back, against the Galaxy that led to a narrow road loss in rather controversial circumstances, the Quakes have scored 1, 1, 1, and 0 goals in each of their last four games. Two of those games, the goals scored were total consolations, with their opponents posting a combined 12 goals against them.
While the Earthquakes have never been a free-scoring team, what they did well in Orlando, and what they’ve done well previously at times under Almeyda, is shoot early and often. Sometimes the Quakes will shoot from a strange angle and from way out, the shot will get blocked or it will sail over the mark. But if you’re doing that 20 times in a game, it’s ok to let fly and miss some attempts, because you know there will be more where that comes from. San Jose aren’t a team that generally walk the ball into the net, and they thrive on volume in attack.
Against the Galaxy most recently, the Earthquakes had seven total shots, two on goal. I think given the chastening defeat the game before, it’s ok to toggle back on the volume chance strategy for a game, but they need to balance a sound defensive strategy with letting fly on the other end a little more often to find that much-needed win.
Here’s the biggest conundrum, in wondering which players will be used game to game. Almeyda has said repeatedly he has to rotate his squad because of all of the games the team is playing these days (totally fair) and he has to evaluate which players will be staying on next season and which will not (also fair). But after a 7-1 loss, the margin for error is too grave for Almeyda to really stray too far from a best XI, unless the club has told him he can rack up horrible losses this season with no consequences or he doesn’t want to continue with the club past this season.
The reality is even if the Quakes have lost their mojo since Orlando, they’re only four points back of the final playoff spot, with a game in hand. As bad as the local phase of play has been so far, they could still make the playoffs! So while I get that recent results are concerning, the team obviously needs multiple reinforcements in the long term and squad rotation is a necessity for a few reasons, San Jose absolutely still have something to play for this season. And we’ve seen they can play very well in a tournament. The MLS Cup Playoffs are a single-elimination knockout tournament these days...
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