Three things to watch for: Sounders vs. San Jose Earthquakes
As the Sounders host the San Jose Earthquakes for their second home match in as many weeks, they’ll be looking for another three points that could finally drag them up off the floor of the Western Conference standings. The Sounders’ 3-4-1 record has them ninth in the conference, and a win Saturday would surely buoy them as they head back out onto the road in the coming weeks.
The Earthquakes boast a marginally better 4-2-3 record to put them at fifth place in the West. As mentioned in my scouting report, San Jose has a pretty poor away record so far this season, going 0-2-2 with a minus-four goal differential. San Jose is coming off a fairly average run of form, going 1-1-1 in its last three matches. It looks as if defender Clarence Goodson is likely to be out, and forward Quincy Amarikwa may be a game-time decision.
The match kicks off at CenturyLink Field at 7 p.m. on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. Here are three keys:
1. Jordy vs. Wondo. Despite being a pretty unfair comparison, the truth is that Seattle’s Jordan Morris and San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski are two of the most in-form strikers in Major League Soccer, and they’ll face off on Saturday. “Wondo” is one of the best strikers in league history, and the veteran has already shown that he can still hack it in 2016 with his league-leading seven goals. Morris, on the other hand, is on a three-match scoring streak after his late winner against Columbus last weekend. Who do I expect to notch a goal or two on Saturday? San Jose will likely be bunkering down and resorting to long balls to Wondolowski with maybe a handful of supporting players attacking when in possession. Seattle normally doesn’t need to be too worried about teams playing for a draw like this, but the long-ball style is Wondolowski’s bread and butter. It’s quite possible that he’ll eke out a goal at some point on Saturday. Morris, while in red-hot form right now, may have trouble breaking down the stronghold that San Jose builds. His best chance will likely be near the end of the match again, when Seattle could have fresh legs to build attacks with and when San Jose’s defense will be tired.
2. Friberg may be pulling the strings. As of now, midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz is unlikely to feature on Saturday thanks to a thigh strain that’s been plaguing him since he came off against the Rapids two weeks ago. Erik Friberg, who was especially dangerous against Columbus, seems likely to start against San Jose. He replaced Aaron Kovar about 20 minutes into the second half and did well to distribute the ball to the flanks. It was his brilliant pass to the left of the box to Joevin Jones that led to Morris’ winning goal late in the match. If he’s been able to reach match fitness, he’ll surely be in the starting lineup on Saturday. Another plus to his inclusion is that Clint Dempsey will most likely start as a forward, where he’s much more dangerous than he is from midfield. I expect Friberg to play at the top of the midfield triangle, spraying passes to the flanks and, ideally for Seattle, over the top for Morris.
3. Seattle’s defense must stop runs from midfield. When you look at some of the best goals scored by San Jose this season, they’ve come from deep runs after deflections or lofted crosses. Wondolowski’s holdup play is dangerous here, too. He’ll pluck long passes out of the air and stand his ground, often dragging two defenders out of position and creating space in or near the box. Once a speedy midfielder starts moving towards that space, Wondolowski dinks the ball to his teammate. It doesn’t always work, of course, but it’s one of the hallmarks of San Jose’s style. Alberto Quintero’s Goal of the Week in Week 6 came from a pass to the wings, a run from Wondolowski that drew two defenders away from the edge of the box, and a perfectly-timed run and shot from Quintero. In situations like this, Seattle can’t be distracted by Wondolowski and double-team him. Chad Marshall should be marking Wondolowski in the box, especially when there’s risk of a high cross. Brad Evans needs to do better than the Dallas defender did on Quintero’s goal by keeping an eye on runs from midfield rather than Wondolowski. Seattle’s midfield also needs to keep an eye on such runs, and I think Osvaldo Alonso and Cristian Roldan are more than up to that task.
Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.