In the lead up to Saturday's California Clasico match between the LA Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes, I spoke with the finest reporter covering the Earthquakes beat, Robert Jonas.
Jonas of Centerline Soccer and Quake, Rattle and Goal broke down the Earthquakes and their recent struggles. Currently, San Jose is in eighth place in the Western Conference, but just three points behind fifth place Seattle Sounders FC for the final playoff berth -- albeit with two extra games played.
LA Galaxy Insider: What's the Earthquakes' mindset heading into this game?
JONAS: "Unlike last year where they were willing to stand toe to toe with teams and outslug them in 3-2 games, this year -- especially under new head coach Mark Watson -- they've been becoming a more defensive team and are trying to choose their chances on offense carefully. They're not getting the same type of service that they were last year, so the 72 goals that they scored last year was certainly an aberration, and they're well below that this year. This year, they've tried to manage the game the best that they can on the defensive side and take their chances selectively on offense."
LAGI: With the Earthquakes taking few chances does it limit the effectiveness of Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski?
JONAS: “It limits the chances that [the forwards] are getting which is the reason that their goals are down. A 1-0 game gets the same number of points as a 3-2 win, so they’re not getting the chances to pump in as many goals. Are they less effective? I think you’re seeing them play a little farther back on the field, especially Wondolowski, who is willing to track back on the defensive side. It’s definitely affected his goal output and it’s not surprising given the mentality change.”
LAGI: The Earthquakes will be without the services of Victor Bernardez, Rafael Baca and Justin Morrow due to suspension, how will this impact the team?
JONAS: “It is a big loss for the Quakes, but nothing that they haven’t experience all season as injuries and suspensions have been a running theme this year. With Victor Bernárdez, you’ll probably see Jason Hernandez pair up with Clarence Goodson in central defense. Jason has a lot of experience with the Earthquakes and is the longest tenured Earthquake at the moment. He’s played in the last couple of games so he has his feet under him, so that should be an easy switch. Maybe he’s not as effective, but definitely someone who is comfortable out there. The big question is who replaces Rafael Baca as he and Sam Cronin have formed an almost anonymous central midfield duo that works extremely hard on the defensive side ball and so effectively together that it’s a big question mark. A player like Walter Martinez might be able to step in there as he did so earlier in the season as an almost attacking midfielder, which would allow Cronin to drop into a defensive midfield role. In talking to Mark Watson, he’s keeping his options open and is still considering guys who slide in there like wingers Marvin Chavez and Jaime Alas or even a wildcard like the defensive-minded Brad Ring.”
LAGI: The Earthquakes will be going up against LA's physical center back tandem of Leonardo and Omar Gonzalez, might their physicality hamper the San Jose attack?
JONAS: “It’s an issue that has presented itself all season. Any physical center back duo has given Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski trouble. The Earthquakes aren’t going to sneak up on anyone anymore, so if a lot of the game is dependent on aerial attack then a lot of defenders can key in on that and do an effective job of stopping them. The fact that Omar Gonzalez is such an effective player in the air, is not going to do the Earthquakes any favors.”
LAGI: How can the Earthquakes win this game?
JONAS: “For the Earthquakes to even get a result, they’re going to have to complement the playing style of LA. From my perspective, it’s all about limiting the passes, limiting the attacking runs that LA does so well in the attacking third, and maybe playing deeper in the field. We know how dangerous that LA is on the counter attack and I think that we’re going to have to see the same thing out of the Earthquakes if they’re going to go poach goals in this game. For them to get all three points, it starts with playing strong defensively and keeping the game scoreless as long as possible, and then poaching a goal in the second half. This isn’t the Goonies anymore. They don’t just come back naturally—or unnaturally if you will—they have to be much more disciplined with their chances.”
LAGI: Your prediction?
JONAS: “I predict that the Earthquakes can keep it close for a while, but given their struggles and the fact that they have one road victory in all competitions this season, a draw would be the best case scenario. But I see a late goal leading to a loss.”