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What to Expect: Timbers vs. Earthquakes

Alicia Rodriguez of Center Line Soccer breaks down what Portland can expect from the Quakes.

Seattle Sounders FC v Portland Timbers Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

How do you feel about the Earthquakes’ performances in the MLS is Back Tournament? What worried you and what impressed you?

I think the performance was overall very good. For a team coming off a huge loss at home, it was unclear how they would look coming into the Orlando tournament, but the Quakes exceeded expectations and the team itself was pleased with the progress made, reaching the quarterfinals.

I was impressed by San Jose’s growth in the tournament and ability to get a result out of multiple game states and contexts. The team not only was strong in defense but posted a good number of goals, which is the dream. As for worries, the loss to Minnesota was a real disappointment — this may sound nuts, but I felt if the Quakes had won that game, they could have won it all.

During the MLS is Back Tournament San Jose looked like one of the strongest and most entertaining teams. What went wrong in the match against Minnesota?

It’s hard to say, but with a two-game sample size this season, I think Minnesota are a bad matchup for San Jose, frankly. That’s not to say the Quakes played great in that game in Orlando, but it was the only game of the competition where they really didn’t have any answers. I think Matias Almeyda’s experience and success at short tournaments shined in this tournament, but he still hasn’t figured out the Loons, and it meant they couldn’t continue on in the competition.

What is San Jose’s preferred style of play? How will they set up in possession?

The Earthquakes play a unique style in MLS under Almeyda, marked by a hard pressing style, high energy and man-to-man marking. Traditional positions are somewhat irrelevant, with games meant to look chaotic by design and players wandering all over the field to mark their man or try and find space. Other teams in MLS do some similar stylistic elements, but the Quakes are truly on their own when it comes to Almeyda’s helter-skelter style, and in Orlando, it mostly worked.

In Florida, the Quakes nominally played a 4-3-3, but again, you won’t see compact lines moving up and down the field. That’s just not how they do it. They’ll opt to move the ball upfield as quickly as possible and get as many chances as possible.

What are the Earthquakes’ strengths and weaknesses offensively?

Prior to the Orlando tournament, it was unclear if San Jose had figured out who will score the goals, but they got multiple goals from — who else? — Chris Wondolowski, Cristian Espinoza, and Magnus Eriksson, and a few other players chipped in as well. This team is built to spread the load around, so if they can all pitch in, that should be fine.

Eriksson did just leave, however, getting a transfer back to his native Sweden this week, and for him to leave when he was playing his best in MLS is a bit tricky. I don’t think he was ever at a point where he was running the attack like the Quakes expected, and I think their relative depth in attack means that will give another player who can start, whether that’s Danny Hoesen, Wondolowski, Carlos Fierro or someone else, a chance to get more minutes here.

San Jose allowed quite a few goals in the MLS is Back Tournament. But they often scored a lot more than their opponents. They seemed to go out with the confidence that no matter how many they gave up the Earthquakes would score more. Does that style worry you and do you think we will see some adjustments defensively?

I think aside from the comeback win against Vancouver and the knockout loss to Minnesota, San Jose’s defense was exceptional at the MLS is Back Tournament. Considering their crazy style of play means they will concede goals, multiple shutouts is in itself pretty remarkable.

As for adjustments, don’t count on it. Portland will get chances, because the Quakes are willing to concede a few jailbreak counterattacks each game if it means they have nine players in attack. They just wager their goalkeeper and a defender hanging back can do something, or the opponent will lose their nerve, or maybe the other team will score. Then they’ll go down to the other end and try and get more goals themselves. That’s what the Quakes do, and while it can lead to some lopsided results, I expect they’ll bank on the good form in Florida to help get them started on a good footing now that the games are local again.

Thank you to Alicia Rodriguez of Center Line Soccer for answering our questions!