Sounders FC meets the San Jose Earthquakes in a critical Western Conference battle on Saturday at Avaya Stadium. The Earthquakes were victorious in the first two meetings this season, but both teams look much different nowadays than they did for those two prior matchups. Here to break down Saturday’s contest is Ross Fletcher, the Voice of Sounders FC who will be calling the game on JOEtv.
On lessons learned from the two losses to San Jose:
It’s difficult to put your finger on how those two victories for San Jose play into this game. I think so much is different about this match. The first one was only the second game of the season with both teams trying to find their feet, and Brad Evans was almost literally trying to find his feet as a central defender for the Sounders. The other game was coming off the U.S. Open Cup match against Portland. Of course there was plenty of controversy, and Seattle was a bit scarred from that. So I think it’s difficult to say that this match really is related to those two games.
They’re two teams that have huge playoff implications riding on this match. It’s a six-point match, so I think the atmosphere and the tempo of the game will be very different. Seattle needs to just try and gut it out, use some of that ability to grind out three points that they’ve shown in the last couple of matches. The Sounders are trying to do something they haven’t done in San Jose in a long time: go there and get a victory to keep themselves above the Earthquakes in the playoff situation.
On the importance of shutting down Chris Wondolowski:
From a defensive point of view, it’s just being aware of where he is at all times. He’s made his name with really clever movement. For him, a lot of it is about finding the right place at the right time, whether it’s slipping behind a defender at the far post, timing his run into the box or linking up with his teammates 40 yards from goal.
The thing with Wondolowski this season is, for large parts of it, he’s played a more withdrawn role. Injuries have taken their toll with San Jose. They’ve brought in different guys toward the latter part of this season, and that means his role has changed a little bit. Head Coach Dominic Kinnear said just this week that they’re looking to play Wondolowski five to 10 yards closer to the goal. So it’s about that awareness for Chad Marshall, Román Torres and the rest of the team to keep tabs on him.
On San Jose’s chances of making the playoffs:
I think right now, looking at the standings, you have to say San Jose is a contender. The teams are so close in the standings that you can’t rule anybody out right now. It’s all about trying to get hot at the right time, and when you look at San Jose, they’ve won four of their last five games. That suggests they’re in the form to be able to put a playoff run together.
This issue for them this weekend is whether they have enough defensive depth. They’ve had a long-term injury to their leftback, Jordan Stewart, and then central defender Victor Bernardez picked up a hamstring injury in the last game against Philadelphia. J.J. Koval came on, and he didn’t look like the same type of player as Bernardez. Paulo Renato, who was brought in as a central defender at the start of the season – clearly San Jose does not have the faith in him.
So do they have enough experience in the back, and can they utilize all of their midfield talents? You’ve got Matias Perez Garcia coming back from a hamstring injury. Anibal Godoy has really made a difference as of late. But do they have enough defensively? That will be crucial for them in this playoff run, because at the other end of the field, they don’t seem to be having too many problems.