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Harold Cummings red card taints San Jose Earthquakes’ otherwise promising draw at Philadelphia

Apr 7, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes defender Nick Lima (24) and Philadelphia Union defender Auston Trusty (26) battle for the ball during the first half at Talen Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The San Jose Earthquakes struck first through designated player Magnus Eriksson’s first Major League Soccer goal, but the Philadelphia Union fought back to earn a 1-1 draw with a stellar second-half effort. Still, it was the Quakes’ first road result of the season, but the point earned was tainted when Harold Cummings received a straight red card after the official turned to the video assistant referee to determine the San Jose centerback used violent conduct against Union defender Auston Trusty in the last sequence of the game.

Here are three thoughts on the Earthquakes 1-1 draw at the Union:

1. A tale of two halves

There are no easy road games in MLS, and teams that have to travel across three time zones rarely find success. The Earthquakes have been notoriously poor away from the Bay Area, compiling a 4-24-9 record since September 2015, and the Union wasted no time in pressuring the visitors at Talen Energy Stadium.

For the first 30 minutes of the match, Philadelphia controlled possession nearly 2-to-1, and San Jose was left chasing the game. Goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell had troubles distributing the ball in the face of Philly’s press and was subsequently forced into making a couple highlight-reel saves to keep the contest scoreless.

“We wanted to play out a little more from the back,” Tarbell said. “We just didn’t deal with their pressure well and got away from that and starting hitting some long balls which isn’t what we wanted to do.”

But the Quakes weathered the storm. After tilting the possession battle in their favor, they struck for the first goal of the game in the 37th minute. Eriksson, who a year ago was the top scorer in Sweden’s Allsvenskan, shocked the Union with his MLS Goal of the Week candidate and gave San Jose its first lead on the road since a 3-0 win against the L.A. Galaxy last August.

“It was a great ball from Danny [Hoesen],” Eriksson said. “I scored with my right foot, which I do not do that too often. I was actually planning to take one touch with my left foot. Then I saw that the defenders were running toward the goal. It was a good first touch and it gave me the opportunity to get the nice finish.”

The Quakes managed to keep the Union at bay for the remainder of the half, and they entered the dressing room up 1-0. Head coach Mikael Stahre, who had his team playing in a flat 4-4-2 for the first stanza, changed the formation to a 5-4-1 to start the second half, with midfielder Florian Jungwirth dropping into the back line and playing between the centerbacks. It was a tactical shift the caught Philadelphia off guard, at least initially.

“In the first half, Philadelphia put us under pressure and created a lot of chances,” Stahre said. “We were very close to scoring a couple of times. When we handled the first pressure and beat the first pressure and played behind the lines we had a lot of more chances. We changed the shape a little in the second half when we played with a back five. We were more compact, but it gave us more and more options to play from behind.”

The formation change seemed to work, as the visitors three of their game total nine shots in the first 15 minutes of the second half. The Quakes five-man backline ceded a lot of space in the midfield, and it meant that scoring chances would likely only materialize from counterattacks, but the strategy nearly paid dividends on those opportunities.

Alejandro Bedoya finally broke through the fortified San Jose defense to score the equalizer in the 64th minute. It was a gamble by Stahre to try to hold a one-goal lead on the road against a hungry opponent, but it worked just well enough that San Jose earned its first away point of the season.

“The players of course are disappointed, but we are here to try and win the game,” Stahre said. “Still, we were not defeated and I think that is most important and to handle the late pressure from Philadelphia. In general, decent performance but I am very pleased with a point.”

2. Limited chances lead to limited goals

San Jose’s offense was buzzing two weeks ago in its 2-1 loss to New York City FC at Avaya Stadium. The front four of Chris Wondolowski, Vako, Hoesen and Eriksson were electric, producing 19 scoring chances. And, if not for the performance of NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson, they would have overturned the late game deficit for a victory.

“I think we play better at home,” Eriksson said. “You saw the last 30 minutes against New York, we created a lot of chances and I think they counted 19 shots. That is good. We need to transform those chances into goals.”

Against the Union, that same offensive movement and verve were lacking. The Quakes registered a total of nine shots, five on target, over 90 minutes. Philadelphia’s pressing game had a lot to do with the discrepancy, but it also was a result of a more balanced approach to the game by Stahre.

The Earthquakes head coach made it clear in the build up to the game that he couldn’t see his team playing with the same high tempo in Philadelphia as they have in games back in San Jose. He tasked his defense with a simple bend-don’t-break game plan, with the attackers, including goal scorer Eriksson, dropping back to help in the effort. It almost worked.

“We had two tough games recently where we did not get any points, so we wanted to win this game badly,” Eriksson added. “They played well in the second half and we were a bit too low. Of course, it was a tough game especially in the second half.”

If the Quakes can improve on their finishing, starting this Saturday against the Houston Dynamo at Avaya Stadium, Stahre’s tactical adjustments should bear fruit and they’ll stand a chance of reversing a three-game winless streak.

3. Cummings lack of self control could prove costly

Entering the game against the Union, the Earthquakes had featured the same starting line-up in three games to start the 2018 season. Stahre did make one change, handing Joel Qwiberg his first MLS start at left back in place of veteran Shea Salinas, but the remainder of the team stayed consistent.

Qwiberg did OK on his debut, but he wasn’t a significant upgrade over Salinas and the Quakes defense still looked vulnerable on the left side. Centerbacks Yeferson Quintana and Cummings, on the other hand, saw improved chemistry in their partnership. Quintana was named player of the match by the Earthquakes TV announcing crew. The entire defense earned the praises of goalkeeper Tarbell.

“Yeah, they did fantastic,” Tarbell said. “I mean the chances that we gave up in my mind were controlled situations. Our back four did a really good job controlling the air, controlling the long balls and by keeping guys in front of us and staying compact. The chances we did give up, I think, were under control.”

But a moment of madness from Cummings in the game’s waning seconds will require San Jose to make another change to the back line. Following a VAR review, Cummings was handed a red card for violent conduct against Trusty. The Panamanian will now sit out at least one game, this Saturday against the Dynamo, halting the budding relationship he and Quintana have developed in the heart of the Earthquakes’defense.

Perhaps Jungwirth, who played as a third central defender in the second half against the Union and was the team’s 2017 Defensive Player of the Year as a centerback, will step into the fray and mainstay stability along the back line. Stahre, unexpectedly, will now need to determine how to proceed moving forward without Cummings.

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