Orlando City is finally back to playing MLS games, after not taking the field for league action since that dramatic 2-2 draw at New York City FC on May 29. Kevin Molino's header was a great way to send the team off into the Copa America break but let's be honest, it left us wanting more.
The San Jose Earthquakes come to town at a time when both teams will be missing their biggest stars. Chris Wondolowski is still with the USMNT after the Americans knocked out Ecuador in the Copa America quarterfinals Thursday night. Kaká is out for the Lions with a thigh injury sustained while preparing for the Copa with Brazil. Still, this is a compelling match-up of a team that scores goals (Orlando City) against a team that is good at preventing them (San Jose).
Who are San Jose's key off-season additions and subtractions that we should know about and how have they affected Dominic Kinnear's team and approach so far in 2016?
NG: Dominic Kinnear brought in some interesting new talent in the off-season. The defense was shored up with Argentine Andres Imperiale, an experienced defender, who's expected to spell Bernardez and Goodson as needed. Just before the season kicked off, Kinnear was reunited with another defender, Kofi Sarkodie from Houston. It's a solid back line when you also factor in Marvell Wynne.
Panamanian midfielder Alberto Quintero was recommended by his compatriot Anibal Godoy and has slotted in nicely -- he's slight at only 5-foot-6, and can get pushed off the ball (given the loose approach of MLS referees) but he seems to be figuring out the league.
Up front, Chad Barrett played well in the preseason, and then promptly got injured -- but that's okay; we have Wondo (mostly). Finally, Simon Dawkins, a fan favorite from the 2012 Earthquakes squad that won the Supporters' Shield, returned as a DP -- he's taken some time to get back into the form that we saw back then, but more of his incisive runs have been apparent in the Quakes' recent games.
The Earthquakes are among the league's best teams at preventing opponents from scoring goals. Is this due more to style of play or the personnel on the back line and in the defensive midfield?
NG: It's a lot to do with the solid back line I mentioned above, and the depth of the squad at the back -- don't forget to factor in Jordan Stewart, recently recovered from an Achilles injury; a great soccer IQ and solid defender.
Another reason is the marked improvement of goalkeeper David Bingham -- he looks a lot more confident, and that's manifested by better decision-making and far fewer errors. He already earned his first USMNT cap, a shutout against Canada, and figures to be in their future plans.
That said, the Earthquakes haven't yet found their first road win -- and first win on a Saturday this season (0-2-4). Despite the strong defense, they're going to have to figure out a way to score in Wondolowski's absence to get that first Saturday road win.
What kind of formation and tactics can we expect from San Jose this weekend against what is most likely going to be a 4-2-3-1 by Orlando City, and what do you view as the game's key match-up?
NG: When you think San Jose, you always think 4-4-2, right? I know I do. The Quakes might counter the Orlando 4-2-3-1 by moving a winger to the middle of the park -- look for Perez Garcia to take care of that task (especially since it also seems to be his natural inclination).
I would normally have focused on neutralizing Kaká as the key match-up, and it would have been exciting to see the youth of USMNT U23 alum Fatai Alashe versus Kaká's experience, but I understand that Kaká's unavailable this weekend.
I imagine that the larger match-up will be the overall emotional energy of the Orlando City Soccer Club's first game after the Pulse nightclub shooting.
Can you please give us your key injury/suspension/international absences, projected starting XI and score prediction?
NG: Major absences for the Earthquakes include defender Clarence Goodson, still sidelined since the second week with a back injury, and maybe Simon Dawkins, who was released from the Jamaican Copa squad after picking up a groin injury.
Chris Wondolowski will be absent, preparing to face Argentina in Copa America, but midfielders Anibal Godoy and Alberto Quintero might be released from the Panamanian squad in time. And no, I still don't know what is happening with Steven Lenhart -- safe to say he won't be in this weekend's lineup.
Predicted score: Orlando SC 0-0 Earthquakes.
Probable line up: David Bingham; Kofi Sarkodie; Marvell Wynne, Victor Bernardez, Jordan Stewart, Simon Dawkins, Anibal Godoy, Fatai Alashe, Matias Perez Garcia; Quincy Amarikwa, Adam Jahn.
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Big thanks to Nerdy from Center Line Soccer for giving us some insight on tonight's opponents from the Western Conference.