Sporting KC vs San Jose Earthquakes: Storylines, and a Tactical Preview

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Kansas City, KS (March 17th, 2017)- Sporting KC come into their third match of the season without a win, a goal scored, and a goal against. Riding into town on the back of a breakout midfielder, the San Jose Earthquakes will look to get their best start in club history. What’s going to give? What are the storylines? We’ll answer that, and give you a tactical preview of how this game will set up.

Sporting KC vs San Jose Earthquakes: Storylines and a Tactical Preview

For Sporting KC…

The storyline is simple: When will they score a goal? After playing against DC United, they seemed to feel inconvenienced at the fact that they sat back. In talking about the way Dallas played? Sporting was clearly annoyed at the way they sat back, and didn’t make much of an attempt going forward. Well, San Jose is a little different. Both DC United and FC Dallas were without some key figures in the attack, due to injury and Oscar Pareja’s choice. With a team riding high on confidence coming into Children’s Mercy Park, Sporting KC are simply looking for one thing: a goal.

They haven’t scored one in their first two games, despite coming close a couple of times. The attack has looked disjointed and toothless for a good portion of the last couple games. A lot of possession, but no final product. The disjointed feel comes from the fact that Benny Feilhaber doesn’t have to play as deep, so now he finds himself playing a lot closer to Dom Dwyer and the rest of the front attacking trio. There are also a few new members to that attacking trio. All of this throws wrinkles into the attack. The big thing is, they have shown flashes of what they can do. If they can make those flashes into consistent chances and buildups, they’ll be fine. But until they do, the questions of their goalscoring problems will still remain.

For San Jose Earthquakes…

The big talk is can they continue their success? They ride in on a two-game winning streak, knocking off the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps. There are two key figures in both of these games that Sporting KC and the rest of the league should fixate on: Anibal Godoy and Nick Lima.

Sporting KC fans might remember Anibal Godoy from that awful 5-0 defeat San Jose gave them at Children’s Mercy Park in 2015. Godoy scored his first MLS goal in that match as San Jose ran rampant on the counter. Nick Lima is one they’ll want to familiarize themselves with. The rookie has been one of the biggest stories in the league to start the season. He has incredible prowess in the attack, and has pace to burn. The big thing is? He’s a right back. And he has just as good defensive abilities to boast as well. He completely shut down Ignacio Piatti in the season opener, and kept Kekuta Manneh in check last week. Lima also scored his first goal last week.

Outside of the big performances from Godoy and Lima, San Jose have benefitted from a lack of discipline in both of their opponents. Out of the 185 minutes they have played this year, 96 have come against 10 men. That’s an entire game against ten men! In that time they scored three goals and surrendered none. They’ve been outscored 2-1 in 11 v 11 play in those 185 minutes. Can the Earthquakes replicate their success so far? If they manage to pick up another win, it would be the first 3-0 start in club history. Yes, dating all the way back to the San Jose Clash.

Tactical Preview

San Jose and Sporting KC are an interesting tactical match. Sporting wants to press you out of possession, and hold on to the ball as much as possible. They play with a 4-3-3, where the front three are very attack minded. This might suit San Jose if they choose to play on the counter. However, that’s not really what they’ve tried to do this year. San Jose is going to go at Sporting KC with a high press. They’ve had the best defensive record in MLS over the last two years, but they have had big issues scoring. With four goals in their first two games, that scoring issue may have gone away. So the big question is where does something give? Does Sporting get pounded on the counter? Or does San Jose’s aggression in the pressing style open things up for Sporting in the final third.

I’m going to lean towards the latter. San Jose wants to hold the ball just as much as Sporting does, however they employ a very high press to win the ball back. It’s the fact that Sporting does so well at retaining possession, that I think San Jose’s pressing style might get exploited. The main matchup to look at there is whoever is lined up against Shaun Francis. Francis likes to get forward, but doesn’t have the best passing ability, and then can find himself lost in the defensive end. This benefits whoever lines up on that left side for Sporting. That, and having three guys in the central midfield, as opposed to San Jose’s two, will be a big matchup to watch. Here is how I think they line up:

Prediction

I think Sporting KC pulls out a win here. The home field advantage in MLS is a serious thing, and Sporting seems ripe to bust out, especially with how San Jose will likely play.

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