SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Earthquakes salvaged a 2-2 draw with the Seattle Sounders in their final preseason game. Chris Wondolowski netted two penalty kicks to complete the comeback after Victor Rodriguez had staked the Cascadia club to a two goal advantage. The Quakes played a man up for the final 30 minutes of the match but weren’t able to find a game winner.
Preseason games can be tricky to analyze, but with the Earthquakes season opener against the Montreal Impact now less than a week away, and the results of Saturday’s dress rehearsal providing some encouragement, here are three thoughts on San Jose’s 2-2 draw with Seattle.
Never too early to make a late comeback
Too often in 2018, the Earthquakes dropped points due to their inability to overcome adversity. This would be evident in the lack of intensity often seen when opposing teams scored goals, which sometimes lead to additional deficits.
San Jose’s defense often took the brunt of the blame for these collapses, but the offense didn’t always take the pressure off the back line by generating sufficient leads in games, as well as sustaining possession of the ball. It was a pattern that looked similar in some ways to the game against the Sounders, though there were some signs of improvement.
“We need to be more clinical, especially in finding that final pass, that final shot in the attacking third,” Wondolowski said. “Our build-up is doing very well, and it is continuing to blossom, but whether it’s the cross, the shot, the first touch, it needs to be a little bit sharper.”
The Quakes had very few quality shot attempts in the first half, with Magnus Eriksson having two of the better ones, even though they dominated possession. Seattle’s first goal came against the run of play, and their second involved some controversy centered on a missed offside call.
“There were times, especially in the first half, where we were controlling the game,” defender Nick Lima said. “We just needed to go back to that. We got a bounce going our way, and then we got a good call, and then we evened the score. We need more of that.”
Not allowing referee decisions to decide their mentality for them, this year’s Quakes players can remain more in control, even when the game’s not going their way, and find a level of resiliency that was missing in 2018.
New additions more positive than negative
Since the start of preseason, Earthquakes head coach Matias Almeyda has emphasized a more aggressive style of play, focused on quick ball movement and rapid recovery on turnovers. It is physically demanding, and the players have been going through extensive fitness training.
But it also requires a higher level of teamwork, as players need to know which teammates will be available to take the next pass in possession or cover in the case of a turnover. Given the mixture of veterans and newcomers on the roster, this strategy is definitely a work in progress.
The Quakes followed that plan to start the game on Saturday, with fresh faces Cristian Espinoza and Judson in midfield and Marcos Lopez in defense meshing with the familiar starters from last season. Judson, in particular, covered a lot of space as a deep lying central midfielder, backing into space between the two centerbacks to handle possession. The Brazilian was clearly hungry for the ball, and as Judson went, so did San Jose.
The Sounders first goal, however, was less the fault of any individual player, and more a product of the team getting pulled out of position during an attacking foray. Judson did everything he could to catch Jordan Morris on the counterattack, but his pace couldn’t keep up with the Seattle forward. Central midfield partner Anibal Godoy was late to recover and did not track Rodriguez’s run into the box, and the forward easily beat goalkeeper Daniel Vega.
“The first half was good until their goal,” Almeyda said. “It was a collection of errors, but also a strength of our opponent on the counterattack. We needed to move the ball quicker from one side to the other, and with more accuracy.”
Lopez, only 19, made some ill-advised passes from his left back position, but he was able to cover large sections of the field, nearly endline to endline. He did not look out of place in Almeyda’s system, but he’ll need to minimize his mistakes if the Quakes are to reverse some of their defensive frailty from a season ago.
“We have a lot of young players that in this system, within a year or two, will be very well prepared,” Almeyda said.
The talented Tommy Thompson
Fan favorite Tommy Thompson is billed as a creative attacking player, and in his four seasons with the Earthquakes, he’s featured primarily as a wide midfielder. With Almeyda in charge, that is going to change.
“Since I’ve arrived here, I’ve been using him as a right back, so this was nothing new,” Almeyda explained. “It’s a position that he can come on as a substitute and provide us more offense.”
Thompson entered the game against the Sounders as a substitute for Lima, the team’s regular right back, and he provided a different spark in the attacking half of the field.
“You have different characteristics when compared to Nick,” Almeyda said. “With Tommy, we will be able to use his speed and his dribbling and combination play, something we have emphasized with him since the start of preseason.”
Lima, the incumbent right back and fellow Earthquakes homegrown player, has been impressed with Thompson’s ability to increase his on-field versatility. Asked to rate his understudy following the Seattle game, he provided nothing but praise.
“It doesn’t seem like I have to teach him much,” Lima quipped. “He’s doing pretty well.”
By no means is Lima in danger of losing his starting role, but Thompson could be a logical replacement for Lima if he is called to international duty with the U.S. national team, which is a strong possibility given his successful stint with the team in its recently completed January training camp.
“It was exciting to see, and the more that guys get opportunities, it helps the team,” Lima said. “The depth is there, and it will help us succeed over the whole season with that.”
Overall, it is Almeyda’s plan to foster competition across the formation, and nurture younger, less experienced players into potential starting level performances. Thompson is well on his way to fulfilling that objective.