The Seattle Sounders will open up Group B play of the MLS is Back Tournament with a match against the San Jose Earthquakes on July 10 (6:00 p.m. PT; ESPN).
Known for their unique man-marking defensive scheme, the Quakes rely on sense of collective grit over individual brilliance to grind out results. They’re a capable attacking team – they averaged 60-percent possession and scored four goals from their first two matches of the 2020 MLS regular season – but their greatest trait is the universal buy-in from the entire squad for their exhaustive system. While the Rave Green should be favored in this fixture, it will by no means be an easy result.
Previous Meeting: The Sounders visited Avaya Stadium for the penultimate fixture of the 2019 MLS regular season, needing a result to keep the No. 2 seed in the West within touching distance. San Jose’s attack was firing on all cylinders as they forced Stefan Frei into 10 saves throughout the 90 minutes. With the match seeming destined for a draw, Jordan Morris pounced on a miscued back pass, bursting behind the Earthquakes’ back line and lobbing the goalkeeper for a late win.
2020 MLS regular season record: 0-1-1 (1 point, 11th West)
2019 MLS regular season record: 13-16-5 (44 points, 8th West)
Star Player: Jackson Yueill
Yuiell defends Nicolás Lodeiro in Seattle's 2-2 draw with San Jose at CenturyLink Field | Jane Gershovich
A tempo-setting, deep-lying midfielder, Yueill saw his stock rise dramatically for both club and country last season, parlaying his composed performances in central midfield for the Earthquakes into a string of caps for the United States Men’s National Team. San Jose’s head coach Matias Almeyda has heaped praise on Yueill’s ability to read the game and pull the strings from a deeper position, stating that he possesses the tools necessary to play in Europe. If the Sounders give him too much time in the middle of the park to pick his head up, he boasts the quality to dissect the Rave Green’s defensive shape with line-breaking passes.
X-Factor: Cristian Espinoza
Espinoza takes on Brad Smith in Seattle's 1-0 victory over the Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium | USA Today
Capable of operating as a dynamic winger or an incisive No. 10, Espinoza burst onto the scene in MLS last season as one of the league’s premier playmakers. With 13 assists to his name – five of which were on game-winning goals – he’s certainly an influential cog in San Jose’s attack.
Playing Style: As mentioned above, the Earthquakes employ an unorthodox defensive system, tasking players with man-marking specific opponents instead of using a collective shape to limit space. The novelty alone was enough to confound opponents last season, with teams struggling to cope with the in-your-face relentless approach. In Almeyda’s system, one of the two center backs has a free role, meaning one Seattle player will not be man-marked. That player must progress the ball and commit defenders, leading to a domino effect where players higher up the pitch can receive the ball unmarked in space.
Decisive Battle: While solving the puzzle of San Jose’s man-marking will be critical, this match could be decided by set pieces. With the Earthquakes likely to muck up the run of play with their gritty defending, this match will come down to whether the Sounders can capitalize on create and finish chances from set pieces.
You can find all the information you need for the MLS is Back Tournament HERE.