Quakes Stun Sporting KC at Home 5-0
The San Jose Earthquakes came out to Kansas City for a midweek game in which they simply refused to countenance defeat, or, more accurately, had nothing to lose. Playing against a team that was undefeated at home and with the best per-game record in MLS, the Quakes 5-0 victory was a timely reminder that things are never as good as they look at the peak (Sporting) or as bad as they look in a valley (San Jose).
The madness started early, with Shea Salinas beating his marker for pace down the left flank, patiently waiting for a passing lane to open up before cutting it back neatly to Cordell Cato at the penalty spot. The Trinidad and Tobago international could not miss as he cooly slotted it home for a shocking 3rd minute away lead.
After going close to a second on more than one occasion in the early going, the floodgates began to open in the 16th minute through a well-won penalty. Fatai Alashe played Wondo in behind the defense with a classy straight ball, allowing the Captain to cut back towards Cato, who one-touched it along to Amarikwa with an open lane on goal, only for the former Fire man to be barrelled into by Chance Myers from behind, earning a stonewall penalty. Wondolowski stepped up to the spot and dispatched his 10th goal of the season, ending his brief dry run dating back prior to his Gold Cup duty.
Yet more chances would pass by the Quakes in the frantic minutes that followed, including a 20th minute set-piece goal by Fatai Alashe that ruled offsides under an interpretation of the rule that began in 2015, a wildly skewed effort from Cato from a 1-on-1 with the keeper two minutes later, and a scuffed shot from Salinas from a decent passing move. The third would come out of nothing, however, when in the 27th minute Godoy galloped forward from a quick turnover, played a slick 1-2 with Amarikwa, cut back against the grain to ditch his defender, and passed the ball into the net for the games third.
The hosts managed a bit more intrepid play going forward in the remainder of the first half, but center-backs Bernardez and Goodson stood tall, preventing even a single Sporting shot hitting the target. The second half continued with the Quakes on the back foot a bit, seeming to settle into a shell with the game well in hand, content to hit out on the counter.
Sure enough, in the 52nd minute Salinas keyed a counter-attack by chipping one over the back line for Amarikwa, who fed Cato for a cross to Wondolowski setting him up for a simple tap-in only for the Quakes' all-time leading goalscorer to push it wide, eliciting jeers from the crowd and snide comments from the commentators.
Before he could find his own redemption, Salinas set up another tidy Cato goal in the 58th after beating his man, making the score 4-0 and signalling that the rout was well and truly on. Wondo would not be denied much longer, however, diving for a near-post cross and directing it into the back of the net with his head, an unbelievable effort that stood in stark contrast to the sitter he had missed ten minutes earlier.
With the score 5-0, both teams slowed down the pace of play and the last half hour was spent with one eye on the weekend's fixtures. That wasn't the end of the fireworks, however, as Alashe unleashed a vicious volley in the 67th that was just barely pushed away, and Amarikwa forced Sporting star Benny Feilhaber into a red card for denial of a clear goal-scoring opportunity. Down a man and five goals, Kinnear finally dipped into his substitutes bench and saw the game out to the final whistle without much drama.
Stop focusing so intently on Chris Wondolowski's "Position"
Most coaches have a healthy contempt of formations as a starting point for soccer analysis, but Dominic Kinnear is an extremist even by their standards. If he listed his standard approach this season as 4-4-2 diamond rather than 4-3-3, I don't think many fans would notice a difference. Similarly, positions take on exclusively semantic distinctions. Is there a meaningful difference between a deep-lying forward and a goalscoring attacking midfielder?
That's why I'm almost exasperated at this point with the obsession with Chris Wondolowski's position. His ability to get higher up the pitch and into more space is not dependent on Dom's pregame instructions or what formation he writes on the whiteboard, it's dependent on the team's ability to hold onto possession and move it forward quickly once it wins balls back.
When the team attacks at pace and holds onto possession, Wondo gets into exactly the places he wants to, and has throughout the season. When the team can't sustain a counter or win the ball back to start with, Wondo sits deep to shore up a fragile midfield. Moreover, the role he's playing this season is not radically different from the one he's played throughout his career as a secondary, recessed striker who tends to arrive late and finish plays off. As a player who excels in positioning and finishing, but lacks in explosive athleticism or dynamic dribbling, he has depended throughout his career on the service his team provides.
In each of the last four games, he's looked much more like a forward. And it's evident that Dom prefers it when he plays that way, given his changes to the rest of the team.
Anibal Godoy was not a "Defensive" signing
There's no way around it: Anibal Godoy was not the very first choice of the Quakes Front Office, let alone the fanbase, as deadline day closed. However, what the fanbase had totally wrong was the kneejerk reaction that a defensively-oriented player was a misplaced investment when the offense is the clear issue with the team.
Soccer is different from American football in that every player is on the field during both offensive and defensive positions, and therefore has a role to play. Weaknesses in one part of the team have to be compensated for by the other players. As I alluded to in my last takeaway, Wondo has had to drop deep repeatedly in order to shore up a midfield that was incapable of holding onto position or converting it to an attacking move. Fatai Alashe has stayed leashed just in front of the back line because we were constantly under siege. Marvell Wynne got much less license to get forward when he was pinned back by the opposition attacks. Matias Perez-Garcia was frequently forced to drop in between the center backs to get on the ball.
As such, what the team really needed was a player who would stabilize the midfield. One option could've been a target striker to hold the ball up more effectively, another could've been a dominant winger who could move the ball upfield on their own, but the most logical option looked quite a lot like Anibal Godoy: a defensively-oriented midfielder and strong passer that would liberate all the other players on the pitch to play more attacking roles.
Alashe and Godoy didn't quite play a traditional double-pivot, but both clearly had some license to get forward, and both were rampant. After a spate of games in which the Quakes midfield was overrun, these two destroyers have enough quality to do some of that overrunning on their own. Let's hope that MPG is succesfully re-integrated into that shape.
Wing Play Was Miles Ahead Of Prior performances
By far the least consistent positions on the Quakes roster have been the wide players, with no particularly clear solution in sight besides perhaps a returning Innocent for the closing stretch of games. While Shea Salinas has flattered to deceive, Sanna Nyassi infuriates as frequently as he delights, and Cordell Cato went invisible as quickly as he emerged, against Kansas City Cato and Salinas put on a clinic.
Salinas, long derided for relying almost exclusively on pace and hard work, showed precisely how valuable those two traits can be went up against an over-matched back line. Cato had some miscues, but given the freedom to stray far from the right-wing position, his close control and quickness opened up plenty for the visitors. Of course, he also bagged two goals, each assisted by a cool feed from the wing by Salinas.
This team is set up to attack at pace, through the wings, rather than build up slowly through the middle. That requires strong wing play, but it's hard to imagine them hitting heights quite so high.
- It could've been a lot more than five: Wondolowski and Cato both missed sitters and Alashe wrongly had a goal ruled out for offsides. The Wondolowski miss, in particular, was breathtaking. That doesn't even take into account a half-dozen other good chances, such as a point-blank Goodson effort in the 8th minute or an open lane for Amarikwa in the 7th that he couldn't take advantage of. This could've been a real supernova of a game with just a few slightly different bounces of the ball.
- Kansas City had undoubtably heavy legs, playing their fourth game in 11 days, and the lethargy showed on the pitch. However, numerous players they started, including Omobi Okugo, had not played extensively in that time and still looked bad, so fixture load can't be solely to blame.
- "Confidence" is a real factor, and while the players were still talking about the playoffs after hitting bottom against Houston, this is the performance (and result) that will make it quite a lot easier to keep the faith down the stretch.
- Beware regression. DC United tops the Supporter's Shield race right now, and it's never easy to win on the road in MLS. That tricky test will be followed by an in-form LA Galaxy who have more talent than any team ever assembled in this league. As good as this win feels, it'll be difficult to keep the momentum up if two losses follow.
- Adam Jahn hammered a volley off a Godoy chip off the crossbar late on in the game. I've watched Jahn in finishing drills in practice a few times now, and I think he very much has it in him, but we simply haven't seen it come out in game situations yet. I definitely think he retains the potential to make it at the MLS level.