Before the season started I wrote that I would not criticize the successes or failures of the return of Dominic Kinnear to the San Jose Earthquakes until the first ⅓ of the team’s league games had been played. After playing 3 games, all on the road in the span of a week, the Earthquakes are now a third of the way into their schedule. Here are some of my thoughts about the Dom 2.0 era so far this season.
A Tale of Two Formations
Two formations have dominated the first 10 games of the season: the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-3-3.The first four games of the season Kinnear went with a 4-2-3-1 with Chris Wondolowski up top as a target forward and, arguably, had success. A win in Seattle that saw the Earthquakes netting 3 goals was the high water mark. Even the losses were close affairs. The opening week loss had the Earthquakes conceding the game in stoppage time and the 1 goal loss in New England was played with a light snow falling. The snow had little to do with the squad’s poor form on the pitch in Foxborough, so Kinnear made a formation change before the May 5 home game against Real Salt Lake.
In the 4-3-3, Innocent Emeghara, Adam Jahn, and Sanna Nyassi made up the group of forwards up top. Wondolowski, who had been the target forward all season, was moved into the outside of the midfield. The formation shift did little to improve the form on the pitch as the Earthquakes were shutout for the second time in the season. The next week against Vancouver the lack of chemistry continued to show. A superb personal performance from Nyassi helped the Earthquakes get three points against a red-hot Whitecaps team, but the team was still adjusting to the new formation. Injuries have prevented Kinnear from fielding a consistent lineup this season which has impacted performance on the pitch. The Earthquakes have one win going back to April 11, a 1-0 win in Houston in the middle of a brutal 3 games-in-a-week road trip. That game was also punctuated by a gutsy individual performance by an Earthquakes player. This time 26-year-old forward Adam Jahn decided he would not leave Texas without a goal on his stat sheet.
The players would never blame poor form on a formation, but several things are evident after the Earthquakes formation change. The Earthquakes are taking less shots on goal, are attempting less passes and are completing less of those passes. Most importantly, they are winning less.
As Sanna Nyassi goes, so do the Earthquakes
The signing of young journeyman Sanna Nyassi last offseason didn’t create the hype that the Innocent signing did but it was just as important to the Earthquakes’ 2015 campaign. As I was pouring through every single statistic I could find on every game this season Nyassi seemed like an anomaly. While every midfielder and forward had good and bad passing/shooting games, nobody’s performance correlated more with the Earthquakes success as Nyassi’s.
The one game that stands out from the rest was the April 11 encounter against Vancouver Whitecaps when Nyassi had one of the worst performances, statistically, on the pitch. He also had the only goal in the game which brings the data back into alignment. Now that Innocent is gone for the season with knee surgery and Tommy Thompson will be gone for a month on international duty, the Earthquakes are going to need more quiet, solid performances from Nyassi if they have any hope of reaching the playoff tournament.
The only player with more than one goal is Chris Wondolowski
While it is not uncommon for Wondolowski to be leading the team in goals, it is unsettling when ⅓ of the way through the season one player accounts for half of the team’s goals. What is crazier is that for the last month he has been playing in the midfield. There is also no one on the squad with more than one assist on the season. This puts the Earthquakes in the bottom half of the statsheet in both assists and goals. A worrisome number for a team that finished last season 18th out of 19 teams in goals scored and assists.
The MLS season is long, and 10 games is a small sample size to try to predict any future achievement. The summer transfer window is coming up and there is time to change the look and direction of a team. There is also the matter of home field advantage. Out of the five major leagues in the United States the home teams wins most often in Major League Soccer and the San Jose Earthquakes have played 7 of their first 10 games on the road. With 6 home-games in the last 2 months of the season, including a makeup game with Montreal in September the Earthquakes have a great opportunity to use their new 18,000 seat stadium to make a playoff push. Time will tell if the Earthquakes can find enough chemistry and stay healthy enough to remain relevant throughout the season.