The San Jose Earthquakes and the Seattle Sounders will face off in the first installment of the Heritage Cup in 2016. You may ask what the heritage cup is? Well, it’s kind of a rivalry, but not really. Labeling this a “derby match” is an extremely loose use of the term. Seattle and San Jose sort of have a rivalry. They always play an intense, hard fought game against one another. But this is not a derby fueled by hate. This rivalry is based on history. Seattle and San Jose were both part of the original NASL, and since the inception of the Sounders into MLS, they have given a trophy to the winner of the regular season series. Labeled the Heritage Cup, it runs alongside these teams’ deeply rooted tradition of soccer back to their 1974 NASL days. In the current MLS installment of the Heritage Cup, San Jose leads with four heritage cup wins and they are the current holders. So how do they stack up against each other? Here is your Earthquakes’ matchday 10 scouting report
Richter Report: Earthquakes’ Matchday 10 Scouting Report
David Bingham is the Earthquakes’ most steady player. He played every game last season and has done so again this season. Bingham has quickly risen in status and has now earned his third straight call-in to the U.S. national team after being named to the Copa America 40 man preliminary roster. He has been pretty good so far this season, with his performance singlehandedly saving points a couple of times for the Earthquakes. He lead the league in clean sheets last season (12), and already has three in nine games this year. He has improved his reflexes, making many saves he probably wouldn’t have last season. Another thing he has improved upon from last season is the timing of his runs to get the ball in the air.
Stefan Frei is expected to be in goal for the Sounders on Saturday night. Frei was one of the top keepers in the league in 2015 and showed major improvement from 2014. In 2014, Frei gave up 50 goals in the MLS Regular Season, while in 2015 he only surrendered 33. A major improvement in shot stopping has given Frei status amongst the top keepers in MLS. Both of these keepers will be difficult to score on. Can the backlines do enough to protect them?
The Seattle backline has a slough of big, physical center backs. They do a good job at staying home, and winning the ball in the air. The one thing does plague them is mobility. Due to the attacking nature of Sigi Schmid’s Seattle Sounders, the backline can often be exposed and cut apart by quick counter attacks. While Seattle has a couple of good outside backs who like to push up, they often get caught too far forward. Teams have been able to beat Seattle due to their lack of finishing on the offensive end, and their inability to deal with the counter-attack on the back end. It will be something San Jose will look to exploit, and something they have exploited many times in the past.
San Jose’s backline’s biggest issue at the moment is that they are without a quality left back, and Clarence Goodson is still out with a mystery back injury. Goodson hasn’t practiced in a while and it doesn’t seem like he’s going to return any time soon. The absence of Goodson has made their backline vulnerable on arial challenges, especially set pieces. Goodson was very good at organizing the back line keeping them marked on their men. Ultimately this backline does have depth without Goodson, they just have to be disciplined about where they give up set pieces, and how often the give them up as well. Thanks to the return of Andres Imperiale from a suspension, the backline may return to some sense of normalcy, with Marvell Wynne sliding over to right back. Although Wynne and Kofi Sarkodie looked good in the positions they played in Philadelphia. With that in mind, Dom Kinnear may test Imperiale out at left back. Another thing for the Quakes backline is that they could potentially have Jordan Stewart play for the first time since tearing his ACL last season.
Seattle’s midfield situation is a little interesting. They don’t really play with true wingers, but the presence of Clint Dempsey in the midfield in recent weeks has payed dividends. Since moving Dempsey to the midfield, they have picked up three points in two of the last three matches. Oswaldo Alonso will likely anchor the midfield and provide a roaming, tackling presence that has made him one of the best defensive mids in MLS. The midfield is probably the only place on the Sounders roster that really has some familiarity with each other, and that is key to defending the counterattacks.
San Jose’s midfield, on the other hand, has gelled incredibly quick for all but one midfielder having more than two years of service with the Earthquakes. Alberto Quintero’s play has been impressive in the buildup, but he’s lacked consistency in the final third. He has scored once and assisted on another, but you could point to many chances that he left for the taking in both the D.C. United match and the Sporting KC match. Anibal Godoy is suspended after receiving a second yellow card in the match against the Philadelphia Union. Not only is he suspended for the double-yellow, but he gets an extra game for that second yellow being his fifth of the season. The discipline in the central midfield has been an issue all season. Godoy’s absence will most likely free Tommy Thompson from his shackles on the bench. The Earthquakes have yet to lose when Fatai Alashe and Thompson are paired in the central midfield. They actually average two more shots a game, a higher passing completion percentage, when they play together compared to Kinnear’s favorite combo of Godoy and Alashe. Thompson may have found his home as a true number eight and that will provide the Earthquakes with an attacking and creative mindset in the midfield. Simon Dawkins got his first goal last week, and it was a beautiful one at that. It was only the third goal this season scored by someone who wasn’t listed as a striker.
Seattle’s striker situation is interesting. They seem to have four strikers on the field at a time, with Nelson Valdez and Jordan Morris split wide of Herculez Gomez, and Clint Dempsey as an attacking midfielder. It’s worked so far, but squeaking out one goal games doesn’t really count as finding the perfect striker combination. Brad Marshall, a central defender, has more goals than Dempsey, Valdez, and Gomez COMBINED. That should tell you enough about the strike partnership in Seattle. Morris has started scoring goals though, and that’s a good sign for the Sounders PR staff since they dubbed him the next Messi. The other strikers need to pick up some slack if Seattle really wants to get back into the thick of the playoff picture in the west.
San Jose, on the other hand, has had most of their goals scored by Chris Wondolowski. Wondolowski is averaging just under a goal a game, and has been on fire to start the season. Quincy Amarikwa was out for the Union matchup due to an injury picked up against Sporting Kansas City. Most likely he isn’t healthy to return for a full game on artificial turf, so it’s up in the air on who Kinnear will pair with Wondolowski. My bet is on Innocent Emeghara, just because they’re trying to showcase him to get rid of the worst designated player signing in the history of MLS. If the Earthquakes could sell him for half the transfer fee they paid, they wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Another option could be Adam Jahn or Chad Barrett. Barrett has yet to make his Earthquake’s debut due to injury and giving him a start against his old club would be pretty nice of Kinnear. The Quakes played their best soccer last week down a man with one striker. So Kinnear may end up leaving Wondo all alone up top.
The Starting XI
Frankly, it’s a toss up. Kinnear is the king of playing it safe, but with how bad Seattle have been recently, who knows. There are two lineups here. One is Kinnear’s patented “play it safe” XI, and the other would be a super ballsy lineup that he most likely won’t throw out. It’s really fun to imagine them playing with that lineup.
Honestly, the formation on the right isn’t far off from what the Earthquakes turn into when Wondolowski drops deeper. I like the lineup on the right just because Shea Salinas is a pure winger who gives fantastic service into the box. Dawkins moved centrally when Salinas came on after Godoy’s red card last week, and the Earthquake’s scored their equalizing goal with him playing that number ten role. That role is actually what he played more often when he was with the Earthquakes in 2011 and 2012. But, most likely Kinnear will roll out the one on the left. I have learned to accept that Kinnear will always play it safe, more often than not. In doing so, a lot of attacking quality and creativity is left on the bench. It will be interesting to see if their position in the standings drops, do the Quakes faithful put more pressure on Kinnear to take the shackles off.
San Jose have had Seattle’s number recently, losing once in their last five meetings. That loss came on penalties in the U.S. Open Cup. San Jose also haven’t lost in the last three meetings at Seattle. Seattle have been terrible this season, for the most part, and San Jose consistently are winning points, having only lost two games in their nine played. Ultimately I see Seattle dominating possession, but having difficulty finding the net. San Jose will look to pressure around the midfield line and catch Seattle quickly on the counter. Due to the speed of the San Jose midfield and outside backs, I don’t see this being a good result for the Sounders.
You can watch this game on MLS Live or CSN Bay Area at 7pmPT/10pmET
Main Photo: Victor Decolongon, Getty Images