Will Bruin SJvSEA look ahead
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Seattle Sounders not resting on laurels ahead of ‘tricky’ match against recently surging San Jose Earthquakes

The Seattle Sounders shellacked the San Jose Earthquakes on Sept. 10 with a record-setting 7-1 win at CenturyLink Field. But when Seattle heads to northern California on Sunday (7:30 p.m. PT; JOEtv, Prime Video, 1090 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM) for its third of four regular-season matchups with the ‘Quakes, Head Coach Brian Schmetzer isn’t expecting San Jose to roll over.

“[The Earthquakes have] at least seven reasons to try and kick our butts,” he quipped.

This is not a different San Jose team personnel-wise than the one Seattle cruised to victory against last month, but it’s certainly one that’s suddenly brimming with confidence. The Earthquakes have won four out of their last five matches and are two points clear of a playoff position despite losing games 7-1, 6-1, 5-0 and 5-1 in the last six weeks.

And even though they have shipped a league-worst 43 goals through 18 matches this season, the ‘Quakes have only allowed five goals in their last five games.

“A lot of people wrote them off,” said Schmetzer. “A lot of people were saying they’re done, [Head Coach Matías] Almeyda was done. I have always been very impressed with Matías’ belief in what he does and how that transfers into his players. Whenever you watch San Jose play, they always had a belief that they were doing the right thing in the system. They took some brutal results, I totally get it. But when you as a coach still, after a run of results like they had, were able to keep the ship steered, you’re still going ahead, it’s almost more impressive that he could keep that group together.”

Almeyda and the Earthquakes play a unique man-marking system defensively that when it works, is incredibly effective and can stymie attacks and lead to great counterattacking opportunities. When it doesn’t work, which it hadn’t in recent weeks prior to San Jose’s current streak, it opens the door for the score line to get out of hand.

“The Sounders took advantage of San Jose’s man-marking scheme in a brand new way,” MLSSoccer.com writer Matt Doyle said after Seattle’s historic 7-1 win. “They basically ran routes, almost like wide receivers on an American football team. The most common and successful of those routes was Jordan Morris running a hook, checking into midfield with a man on his back and cutting the ‘Quakes apart.”

Morris had the game of his season, scoring the opener and then adding a career-high three assists. But coming into Sunday’s match, the Sounders are expecting San Jose to have made adjustments and build upon its new-found success.

“Getting spanked a couple times is a dark hole to climb out of,” said Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei. “In 2016 for us, we were in a dark place [before going on to win MLS Cup]. And if you are able to climb out of those holes, that is powerful. They’re climbing out of that hole right now. Our experience of climbing out of holes allows us to realize how dangerous an opponent they are. They have lots of confidence right now. Almeyda has always been a team coach, a coach that players want to play for, want to die for, and as much as at times it hasn’t worked out, I always sensed that they were there with him.”

Added Schmetzer: “The danger for us is to think that we’re just going to go down there and show up because we beat them 7-1 last time. There is a ton of messaging going on through both verbal and visual aids and also what we’re demanding of the athletes on the field during training this week to get us prepared for what is going to be a tricky match.”