Orlando City (6-3-1, 19 points) is looking to stop a three-game winless skid dead in its tracks tomorrow night against the San Jose Earthquakes (4-4-3, 15 points). The Quakes are 3-0-2 at home this season, which isn’t great news for a Lions side that has struggled away from home (1-3-0).
Compounding Orlando’s problems is a crushingly packed schedule through May and into June that has already taken its toll in Houston and could have a similar impact against another 4-3-3 formation in San Jose. The Lions haven’t won a game in two trips to California, drawing San Jose, 1-1, in 2015. Orlando was down a man for more than half of that game, so it was a good point. Last year’s trip to play the Galaxy started a run of 0-4-1 that ruined City’s playoff chances. Will the third trip to the Golden State be a charm?
We haven’t seen the Earthquakes since Adrian Heath was still Orlando City’s coach. What is different about the 2017 San Jose squad?
Nerdy Gales: There are four notable additions that are proving productive for the Earthquakes this year.
Jahmir Hyka, at number 10 and dubbed the Albanian Messi, is a dynamic new midfielder signed from Swiss Super League’s Luzern. Despite his diminutive stature (hence the nickname) he can control the ball, has good pace and creativity — he complements Anibal Godoy very well in midfield, and has two goals and three assists on the season.
Nick Lima is the Earthquakes’ second Homegrown Player; the first was Tommy Thompson. Lima came up through local academies and then to the University of California, where he was converted from a forward to defender. He performs well at right back, and his experience in attack makes him a talent to watch. He tackles opposing wingers effectively, and his attacking mentality has led to one goal in eight starts. He hasn’t seen any action in the last couple of games, and fans are wondering why.
Florian Jungwirth, is a new defender signed after two and a half seasons with SV Darmstadt 98 of the German Bundesliga. He’s been starting at center back since new DP Harold Cummings was injured (and has yet to play this season), and has settled in well with Victor Bernardez. He’s also starting to work well with Chris Wondolowski, evidenced by his two assists to Wondo’s brace in the recent 3-0 victory over the Portland Timbers. One of the most vocal players on the squad, his enthusiasm is unquestionable, and he, Wondo, and Hyka lead the Quakes players to thank the fans after each home game.
Costa Rican Marco Ureña (via Brondy IF) is proving his worth, deflecting attention from Chris Wondolowski. While he only has tallied one goal and one assist so far, he has a creativity that benefits the players around him. He's up there in terms of shots on goal with Wondo, and I expect he'll continue to augment his own stats as the season progresses.
What is the overall thought behind the 2017 Earthquakes? Are fans waiting for a swoon after the team’s decent start or is the feeling that this year Dominic Kinnear’s club puts it together and makes it to the postseason?
NG: Consistently inconsistent. From where I sit, the fans can enjoy a wonderfully cohesive performance, such as the 3-0 victory over the Timbers one week, and then be dismayed by a lackluster performance on the road against the Colorado Rapids the next. It’s frustrating, perplexing, and disorienting.
In my opinion, the Earthquakes haven’t really put in a robust run of games from which to swoon. Thus far, this season is fast becoming reminiscent of the 2016 season, in which the Earthquakes finished ninth in the Western Conference (after finishing seventh in 2015, and ninth in 2014). This stretch hasn’t all been on Kinnear’s watch, but missing another postseason this year won’t bode well for the coaching staff.
San Jose is one of the league’s unbeaten teams at home. Aside from the obvious “it’s hard to win on the road in MLS” thing, do the Earthquakes do things differently at home than they do on the road?
NG: Without some serious data analysis that involves spreadsheets, statistics, and a minimum of three espressos, I’m at a loss to put my finger on the difference between the home and away performances of the Earthquakes (3-0-2 & 1-4-1 respectively) — and that seems to be an issue for Orlando too (5-0-1 & 1-3-0). Is it jet lag? Orlando will be kicking off at 10:30 p.m. ET, so maybe that will work in the Earthquakes’ favor.
The Earthquakes don’t need to do anything differently at home. It’s worth considering what the Earthquakes do differently on the road, and focus there on the fixing that shabby away record. Intuitively, it feels like the passing suffers in the away version of the Earthquakes, and productive attacks are rare. Overall, the Earthquakes’ passing accuracy (84%) was better than Colorado (82%), but that fell to 53% in the final third (compared to 72% for the Rapids). I suspect the Earthquakes realize that, and will also be looking to fill in the defensive gaps that let in three goals last weekend. In the meantime, I’m brewing a double espresso and firing up a spreadsheet.
Can you please let us know about any injury or suspension absences for Wednesday, and your predictions for the starting XI (i.e. will we expect some squad rotation due to the Quakes facing Dallas this weekend) and final score?
NG: Long-term absences include Quincy Amarikwa (F, knee); Marvell Wynne (D, heart abnormality); Harold Cummings (D, leg surgery); and Shea Salinas (M, knee injury). Victor Bernardez (D) is listed as questionable with a calf injury.
I think Kinnear may make several changes from the last lineup, given the short turnaround. If Bernárdez can’t go, then Kinnear has previously put Godoy on the back line, in which case I would add Dawkins to the midfield. Given that the Earthquakes will have to deal with Cerén and Kaká, then he might opt for a more experienced (if depleted) back line, so maybe Sarkodie gets the start over Lima or Cato (who is still getting used to playing right back, and whose advantage is speed rather than size). My heart says Lima, so here’s my lineup, assuming Bernardez starts — let’s see what Kinnear does:
David Bingham; Shaun Francis, Victor Bernárdez, Florian Jungwirth, Nick Lima; Darwin Cerén, Jahmir Hyka, Anibal Godoy; Danny Hoesen, Marco Ureña, Chris Wondolowski.
Prediction: a high scoring game — 3-2 Earthquakes.
Big thanks to Nerdy from Center Line Soccer for stopping by and giving us some insight on the San Jose Earthquakes.