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Know Your Enemy: San Jose Earthquakes – Part Two – Game Film Review and Points of Interest

The second half of the preview, hitting the game film to examine TFC's upcoming opponent, the San Jose Earthquakes, for strengths and weaknesses

Chris Wondolowski... er, some muppet named Q, recognizes the newest inductee to the century club
Chris Wondolowski... er, some muppet named Q, recognizes the newest inductee to the century club
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Part One, looking over their lineup and form, was posted yesterday

The Tactics

Since taking over the managerial position, Dominic Kinnear has done some experimenting with a new formation. In Houston, he was largely seen as a flat 4-4-2 type of tactician, though through parts of last season Kinnear showed some flexibility, trotting out a 4-3-3 on occasion.

He would open the season with that same 4-4-2, but quickly adapted to better suit the talent he has accrued in San Jose. By the third match of the campaign, they were playing a 4-2-3-1, and come the fifth, the first glimpse of a 4-3-3 came about.

It is a very interesting lineup. Chris Wondolowski, poacher extraordinaire, has been moved into an attacking midfield-type role, alongside Matias Perez Garcia ahead of a pure defensive midfielder. It is a little risky to have two attack-minded players in the middle, but it has worked surprisingly well.

With seven goals already to his name, and having just reached the century-club of 100-goal scorers in MLS regular season play, Wondolowski is without doubt the primary threat – his seven goals account for more than half of the thirteen they have scored thus far.

When not stroking home from the penalty spot, what makes Wondolowski so troublesome is his innate ability to find those little pockets of space and somehow disappear from the defender's radar. It is uncanny how ofter he finds himself in space, right where the ball lands, and the defenders have forgotten to keep tabs on him.

He must be watched carefully; he is always lurking. And by taking up a deeper starting position, he is not an immediate threat, so Toronto's defenders must have a special eye for his movement into the area. It will especially fall on Benoit Cheyrou and Michael Bradley to provide that extra support in considering Wondolowski.

He was probably (read: definitely) offside when he scored against Salt Lake – PRO said that the Beckerman touch was 'intentional' so the goal was 'justified', but that is hogwash. His goal against Columbus, however, was a pure exhibition of his talents.

San Jose works the ball out wide left, allowing Wondolowski and Adam Jahn to insert themselves into the back-line gaps. Bizarrely, neither is really picked up by the Columbus centre-backs, and Wondolowski pounces on the Jordan Stewart cross, chesting it to beat Steve Clark:

That play shows how San Jose uses their big target man to great effect. Jahn's presence, while also a threat himself – his goal against Houston was picturesque – is a distraction, that allows the likes of Wondolowski or Perez Garcia, Innocent Emeghara or Shea Salinas, to find those holes in the coverage. When Steven Lenhart and Mark Sherrod are fit, Kinnear will have a battering ram on the pitch at all times, guaranteeing space for his smaller, pesky attackers.

Toronto will have to mark up with the big man, not a particular strength of theirs, but stay alert enough to gobble up whatever space is presented by focusing on that central threat – a delicate balance.

Further stretching the field, opening up even more lanes to attack, is the quality in width provided by the likes of Salinas, Sanna Nyassi, Cordell Cato, and full-back Marvell Wynne and Jordan Stewart. Pure speed out wide and the ability to beat defenders one-on-one is a constant threat that will turn the back-line, thus making the tracking of Wondolowski and company even more difficult.

Salinas in particular is deft at providing wonderful service, either from the run of play, or from set-pieces, a duty he shares with Perez Garcia, to devastating effect. Against Houston it was Perez Garcia who sent in a lovely curling ball from deep on the right that picked out the head of Jahn, leaping unchallenged to nod the game-winner past Tyler Deric:

San Jose have plenty of targets from such plays and Kinnear teams have long looked to set-pieces as valuable resources. With Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson, as well as Ty Harden, who scored his first MLS goal earlier this season, and Paulo Renato making the trek into the box, as well as the flurry of target strikers, Toronto will have a difficult time matching size with size, so they must limit those opportunities and mark wisely.

One special note, San Jose has taken to doing a weird little routine prior to free-kick, where one player raises the ball, sometimes as high as over the head, setting it down mere seconds before it is sent forward. No real reason for that, aside from perhaps a distraction or a timing device, but interesting to watch – will have to examine that further.

With Innocent, Lenhart, and Sherrod all out, TFC are playing San Jose at a good time, but that is not to say anything will come easily. Perez Garcia, an Argentine designated player, attacking midfielder, who joined midway through last season only to suffer a knee-injury shortly thereafter – he made just six appearances (San Jose seems to have very bad luck when it comes to injuries to additions), and has struggled to familiarize himself with the style of MLS.

That said, after scoring once and collecting an assist in 2014, he already has three assists this season; not quite enough, but signs that he is slowly acclimating to his surroundings. His link up with Salinas in the box against Columbus helped to seal that result and gives an indication of just how dangerous he can be in tight quarters:

That is the sort of quick movement in the area that cuts through defenses or prompts rash challenges that lead to penalty kicks. Toronto will have to be especially wary of that concern – no outstretched legs at unwinnable balls: looking at the likes of Bradley and Jackson to hold off from such enticements.


Despite their relatively low position in the West, San Jose is incredibly solid at the back, having conceded just twelve goals in as many matches.

There are not many centre-back pairings that rival the physicality and poise of the Goodson-Bernardez partnership in MLS and with Harden and Renato on standby, their depth is admirable – at least when considering the lack thereof in places like Toronto.

If there is one weakness that must be exploited, it largely revolves around the risks associated with having a young, often overeager goalkeeper between the posts.

David Bingham, in his four previous seasons with the club, had accrued just five league appearances – he did score a goal against West Bromwich Albion in a friendly for what it is worth - none of which came last season as back up to Jon Busch; he has already more than doubled that figure a third of the way into this season.

As with any young keeper at this level the athleticism and shot-stopping are there, he is excellent at both, but what lacks is the finer points of the game, the decision making, that often proves the difference between good and great.

That rashness has been costly on several occasions. It the opening game of the season, Bingham came rushing off his line, all the way to the top of the box to swat at a ball he had no business attempting with the match tied. Leaving the net exposed, Blas Perez deflected in the stoppage-time winner:

The keeper needs to maintain his cool in those positions.

Another risk with keepers who rush off their line at the slightest prompting is the lack of communication that accompanies such decisions; calmness and coolness are assets when organizing at the back.

It is highly unlikely that the inexperienced Bingham gave Bernardez the required shout in Salt Lake, leading to his horrendous own-goal:

And finally, Orlando City's penalty kick from the weekend is another example of the keeper inserting himself into plays where to do nothing may have been the better option; rushing off his line to attempt to punch the ball away from Cyle Larin, catching the forward across the chest instead, prompting the referee to point to the spot:

What is clear from those situations is that Toronto would be wise to force Bingham into making those decisions. Test him, getting him moving, keep him off balance with balls into the area, follow up shots, and apply pressure. Do not be surprised if there is a chance for Sebastian Giovinco to chip the keeper as he rushes out to a ball he cannot reach.

Aside from that weakness, San Jose has struggled a little with poor marking, especially when faced with numerous threats moving through the area or forced to focus on wide areas. Every defender prefers to keep the threat in front of them, when made to turn, exposing their back-side, it is an uncomfortable condition.

Mike Grella's goal for the Red Bulls is just such an example. San Jose is forced to watch the wide right, while Wynne, alert to the movement of Felipe towards the near-post, completely abandons the back, allowing Grella to ghost in for the finish:

That same lack of awareness at the back stung earlier when Sacha Kljestan was able to find the space to tap in a Bradley Wright-Phillips touch.

In part, that is a weakness in the formation and the style. When full-backs commit forward, they are bound to leave gaps in behind. With only a single defensive-minded midfield, numerical disadvantage on quick attacks is a concern, while for all their qualtiy, neither Bernardez, nor Goodson, are particularly rangy; no defender likes to have to play horizontally, that is where they are beat for pace and forced to turn away from the direct lines.

Toronto should look to get quickly up the field and catch San Jose in such awkward situations. Luke Moore, who has been largely a passenger this season, showed signs of coming to life against Portland and could play a vital role in holding and linking up play, drawing defenders towards him before using his passing skill to play teammates in behind. Expect him to factor in this match.

One final consideration: San Jose have been particularly vulnerable in the final fifteen minutes of both halves, a full half (six) of the twelve goals they have conceded have come in those periods, including two stoppage-time concessions that turned a draw into a loss in Dallas and a win into a draw in Colorado.

Bingham was again partially at fault, overaggressively looking for the ball, but the lack of awareness to spot James Riley lurking and then allowing him a looping header at such a crucial times, was the problem:

Toronto should look to keep applying the pressure, catching San Jose lagging in those waning moments, to punish any distraction or tiredness as it creeps in. Toronto has done an excellent job of eliminating late goals from their list of weaknesses, turning it into a strength instead; something that bodes well.

Points of Interest

Last Meeting: June 7, 2014        Toronto 1: San Jose 0

Toronto scrapped a 1-0 victory when the two met last June with Jermain Defoe scoring the game's only goal from the penalty spot after Nick Hagglund was adjudged to have been fouled in the area by Alan Gordon. It would perhaps have been more had Clarence Goodson not escaped a red card offense when his handball prevented Dominic Oduro from breaking in clear on goal.

This is the only meeting between the two this regular season.

The two clubs have met eleven times in MLS play, Toronto winning three, San Jose four, and drawing the remaining four encounters. The home side has won the last two matches by one goal.

Six of those matches have been played in Toronto, where TFC have won once, the Earthquakes twice, and three ending in draws – two 1-1s and a 0-0. Prior to last season's result, Toronto had never beaten San Jose at home, with the Earthquakes winning two of the previous three, including a 0-3 win in 2012 and 2-3 in 2010. Interestingly, the visiting team has scored three goals on four occasions, each scoring three at the other's ground on two occasions.

San Jose's 0-3 win in 2012, on a Chris Wondolowski brace either side of a Shea Salinas strike, providing the largest margin of victory.

The San Jose site has a nice weekly post that reviews all the past encounters and details some of the connections between the clubs which is worth checking out.

With apologies, Waking the Red did not have the time to exchange questions with SB Nation Earthquakes site, Center Line Soccer, this week, but be sure to check them out for all the latest news on the San Jose end.