The first place San Jose Earthquakes stroll into Saputo Stadium on Saturday night to face the Montreal Impact in a huge David vs. Goliath matchup. The number one team vs. the expansion team. The Cup contender vs. the playoff hopeful. Can the underdog Impact make San Jose wish they never crossed the border? As the cliché goes, doesn’t matter what is written on paper, the game is won on the pitch!
Starting XI: The big question is: Will Alessandro Nesta play or not? While it seemed that he was being held out of the game against the New England Revolution due to a light injury/potential precaution, it is now likely that Nesta will miss his second consecutive game with his knee injury. Looks like it isn’t a case of turf allergy after all! Justin Mapp will also declare forfeit as he is dealing with a groin problem. It remains to be seen whether Sanna Nyassi will get the start or remain as Jesse Marsch’s super sub game changer. Zarek Valentin is also listed as probable but may remain on the bench as a precautionary measure.
Standings: The Impact currently sit in 6th place, 3 points out of the last playoff spot currently held by DC United. DCU have played 4 less games than Montreal.
Please help us! Here are the other MLS teams to cheer for this weekend:
* New England need to beat the Chicago Fire
* Philadelphia need to beat DC United
* Houston need to beat Columbus
3 Questions with Quake, Rattle & Goal and Lisa Erickson
We’ve asked our friends ‘Quake, Rattle & Goal’ and Lisa Erickson from Center Line Soccer to help us preview this weekend’s game. Here’s some of the latest info on the Quakes:
DISCLAIMER: Questions were sent to Quake, Rattle & Goal and Lisa before the news came out that Nesta would likely miss the game and prior to the midweek international games
1. Let's see here... San Jose is the best team in the MLS: number 1 offense, strong defense & they have the best goal scorer (Chris Wondolowski - 17 goals). Plain and simple, the Quakes are a powerhouse team. Due to time zone and being in different conferences, we in Montreal haven't seen much of the Quakes. What have been the key to their success?
First and foremost, the Earthquakes are playing good team soccer. Sure, that might sound cliché, but a hallmark of head coach Frank Yallop’s style is that all eleven guys on the field work for one another on both sides of the ball. Forwards track back on defensive set pieces, wingers check back when outside backs make overlapping runs, both center midfielders play box to box — basically one can’t take a play off and be forgiven by the coach.
Chris Wondolowski gets most of the headlines, but so too do Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart. The three forwards are all having career years, and this is no accident of circumstance. Last season, the strategy of find-the-forward in the area by any means possible showed hints of what was to come. With the addition of speed players Shea Salinas, Marvin Chavez, and Sam Garza, that job of exposing defenses and pouring crosses into the area has become so much easier. Wondo, Gordo, and Lenny are not going to create too many scoring chances with the ball at their feet, but get a pass to them close to goal, even with defenders marking closely, and likely they will get off a shot attempt.
As alluded to above, a key to the Earthquakes success has been the work of all field players to play offense and defense. Looking across the backline, no two more important players take their place in the Starting XI each match than Jason Hernandez and Victor Bernardez. The two centerbacks anchor the defense in front of goalkeeper Jon Busch, and are often called upon to stifle opponent counterattacks not so much through speed but with great positional awareness. Bernardez in particular is impressive with his head and provides another level of defense in winning aerial challenges.
The final piece of the puzzle has to be the work of holding midfielder Sam Cronin. A player that almost never shows up in the statistics sheet, Cronin is the de facto third defender in the center, which allows outside backs Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour plenty of latitude in advancing into the attacking third, and he seems to make only intelligent runs forward. A smooth distributor of the ball, Cronin has integrated himself into Yallop’s scheme with aplomb and is currently enjoying his best season as a professional.
I think the main key to the Quakes success is everyone’s attitude of "Team First". They have all checked their egos at the door and are playing for each other, their coaching staff and most importantly for the fun of football. The guys who are "stuck" on the bench know that they are just as important as those who are in the starting XI and don’t let a negative attitude spoil the atmosphere. Every Quake knows that goals in the last minute are worth just the same as in the first minute, so they play all 90+ minutes which has lead to breaking the league record with most second half stoppage time goals in a season of 7. Their second half goal differential this season is +20. They also celebrate each goal as if they themselves scored it. It is amazing to hear Steven Lenhart feels that when Alan Gordon scores it’s as if he scored and vice versa. Or Chris Wondolowski declaring that he’d rather the Earthquakes win their 3rd MLS Cup than for him to break any scoring records or win any individual award.
2. Looking at the overall picture, this should be an easy game for the Quakes. Does the team have any weaknesses? Do you think that Wondolowski and friends will be able to get past our CB duo of Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari? Nesta shut down Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls, he could do the same to the Wondo, right?
Montreal has looked much improved on defense as of late, especially at home, so expect Wondolowski and Lenhart to find it difficult to dominate up top. However, as the team has proven all season, it is not about winning over 90 minutes, it is about rising up when it counts. Wondo may be going through a spell where the opportunities are not coming, but Lenny has stepped up to be the hero in front of goal. Both players excel at finishing, and both only need the slightest defensive gaffe to provide them the chance they need. If a defender takes a play off, that is the one where he gets burned for a goal.
While Lenhart likes to tussle with opposing centerbacks, especially the physical ones, Wondolowski is more a lurker on the field. Lenhart likes to say that he softens up the defense to make it easy for his teammates, so Nesta will need to mind that behavior and not buy into Lenny’s instigations. So where does that leave Wondo? The Earthquakes talisman forward can score with both feet and his head, and will be looking to extend his streak of good play north of the border. Games against Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps have been kind to Wondolowski in the past. Perhaps he can add Montreal to that list as well.
Like every team in the league, the Quakes do have weaknesses. Sometimes the defense has lapses in judgement and hand the ball over to the other team (Jason Hernandez playing against the Galaxy or Ike Opara). Wondo, Gordo and Lenny all are dependent on good service from the wing or up the middle; so if they aren’t getting balls served to them they have a harder time to score. However, that said... Lenhart normally takes two Center Backs attention leaving Wondo to wandering into space and score. They are deadly on set pieces leading the league with 8 goals off of corners. So Nesta and Ferrari are going to need to be extra vigilant all 90 minutes not giving up free kicks or corners for the Quakes to take advantage. Also, San Jose will be without the super-sub Alan Gordon who will be sitting out due to red card against the Chicago Fire on 7/28 and speedy Shea Salinas who got a strained hamstring against Seattle’s reserve squad on 8/12.
3. Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon and Steven Beitashour were called up for the midweek battle against Mexico. That is a lot travelling. How do you think that will affect their performance on Saturday?
From the US men’s national team training camp in Mexico will arrive Wondolowski and Beitashour in Montreal, but Gordon heads directly back to San Jose to serve out the second game of a suspension for yellow card accumulation and a red card violation. Wondo and Beita did not see the field against Mexico on Wednesday night, so they will not need regeneration time from that match, and they also got in some high level training with the USMNT, which should only benefit their play for the Earthquakes.
Two other players spent time away on national team duty midweek, as Bernardez and Chavez both joined up with Honduras for a friendly against Boca Juniors in Miami, FL. Bernardez started in central defense for the Hondurans and Chavez scored a late goal to see the 2-0 victory over the Brazilian club side. Both players were also scheduled to fly directly to Montreal to join up with Earthquakes and, perhaps a bit more tired than the USMNT contingent, should feature in the starting line-up.
I don’t expect any of the US Nationals to play many minutes in Mexico, so Beita and Wondo should be ready to get to Montreal and play a full 90+ minutes this Saturday. I’m more concerned with Bernardez and Chavez playing in Miami. Both are crucial to the success of our defense and offense and both have had nagging hamstring issues throughout the season. Marvin Chavez, who leads the Quakes with 9 assists, needs to stay healthy especially with Shea Salinas (7 assists) out for this match.
BONUS: Is there anyone on the Montreal Impact that scares the Quakes?
Players with speed often give the Earthquakes fits — see what Dane Richards did against them a few weeks back in Vancouver — so Sanna Nyassi will be a player they need to mark carefully. I’d expect coming off his match-winner last weekend against the New England Revolution that he’d be brimming with confidence, and the San Jose outside backs will need to balance their forays into the attacking third with their defensive responsibilities in order to neutralize the Gambian.
I’m sure the midfield duo of Felipe and Bernier will have the Quakes defense a bit worried. Seeing their combined 10 Goals and 14 Assists makes them the ones to watch. Nyassi’s hard work also shows that you can leave him unattended or he will find a way to put one in the back of the net.
Player(s) to look out for (except for Wondo, of course):
Look for Tottenham Hotspur loanee Simon Dawkins to make an impact on the game. The left winger is not as quick as the injured Salinas along the sideline and he tends to drift centrally in the attack, but he is the best of the Earthquakes on the ball and can attract defenders away from his forward mates Lenhart and Wondolowski. Dawkins has been on a tear for San Jose over the last few weeks, and looks primed for a successful late summer run as the Earthquakes look to hold their spot at the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings.
Steven Lenhart wears down a defense and can jump high to get his head on the ball. Simon Dawkins peppered Sean Johnson’s goal and couldn’t get one in; so I think he is still out for vengeance even after scoring one against Seattle. Other than them, watch the wings with Chavez, Morrow and Beitashour running up to pump balls onto the waiting feet and heads of the forwards.
Predicted lineup and final score:
Q,R&G and Lisa:
Steven Beitashour — Victor Bernardez — Jason Hernandez — Justin Morrow
Marvin Chavez — Sam Cronin — Rafael Baca — Simon Dawkins
Steven Lenhart — Chris Wondolowski
Final score: 3-1 win for San Jose