Match Preview: Minnesota United FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes

by on 28 April 2017

Mirroring the story from last week, week nine presents two teams headed in opposite directions. Minnesota has now gone 2-2-2 in its last six, four of which were on the road, and is coming off its first clean sheet since joining MLS. San Jose began the year very fast but has regressed toward the mean significantly, going 0-3-3 in its last six and never scoring more than a goal in any of those games. So it is that for the second straight week, United faces a home game in which fewer than three points will feel like a disappointment.

Recent form

Minnesota W D L W L -11
San Jose L D D D L -2

Previous meetings

The two clubs last squared off in the 2012 US Open Cup, as a lone Steven Lenhart goal sent the Earthquakes to the quarterfinals and the then-Minnesota Stars packing. Looking back even further, the Minnesota Thunder met the Quakes in the quarterfinals of the 2004 tournament, sending the game to extra time but ultimately falling in a heartbreaking 5-4 penalty shootout.

Community match ratings

This week we introduce a new feature to the weekly preview in which we examine which players are trending up and which are trending down using FiftyFive.One’s community match ratings polls. Looking at a rolling three-game average, we will take a look at who’s hot, who’s not, and who needs to get a look.

Who’s up?

Player 3-game avg. rating (minimum 125 minutes)
Miguel Ibarra 7.0
Bobby Shuttleworth 6.5
Kevin Molino 6.5

Who’s down?

Player 3-game avg. rating (minimum 125 minutes)
Collen Warner 4.8
Marc Burch 5.5
Francisco Calvo 5.7

Having finally earned starting time and following a key substitute appearance against Houston, Miguel Ibarra earned the highest ratings among our community (a game winning goal doesn’t hurt). Bobby Shuttleworth has not only made some tremendous saves in goal but also made the bench of the MLS Team of the Week after getting the start against Colorado despite sustaining a head injury the previous week. Kevin Molino continues to be strong in possession and creative in the buildup, and may be United’s most consistent player.

On the downward trend is Collen Warner, who as a defensive midfielder found poor chemistry alongside another like-minded player in Sam Cronin. Warner started on the bench against Colorado in favor of Ibson, who generally showed well. Marc Burch has not fared well in the eyes of the community, despite United pitching its first shutout of the year. Finally, Burch’s left side defensive partner Francisco Calvo has suffered in the ratings for his penchant for making one or two head scratching decisions per game, whatever else happens.


Referee Ted Unkel
Assistant Peter Balciunas
Assistant Jason White
Fourth Kevin Stott

Ted Unkel will be running his third match of the MLS season on Saturday. Unkel has, over the last three years, been about middle of the pack in fouls given but issues an above-average number of cards, including ranking near the top among MLS referees in red cards shown. If either team chooses to play a strong press, they should be mindful of the wrath of the yellow team.

Roster report

Minnesota United
M Bernardo Añor (hamstring injury) – Out
D Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles) – Out
M Rasmus Schüller (hip flexor) – Questionable
D Marc Burch (left hip) – Questionable
M Kevin Molino (left thigh) – Questionable

San Jose Earthquakes
F Quincy Amarikwa (knee surgery) – Out
D Marvell Wynne (heart abnormality) – Out
M Marc Pelosi (left knee injury) – Out
D Harold Cummings (leg surgery) – Out
M Simon Dawkins (knee injury) – Out

Tactical outlook

Rose tinted glasses are distributed freely after any home win, and though there is cause for excitement about three points and a clean sheet, Minnesota was not especially vibrant in the first half against Colorado. Head coach Adrian Heath will need to find the right balance between not upsetting the approach that led to another three points but also tightening some screws that were clearly loose last week.

Two of the more sticky lineup decisions may, in the short term, have already been sorted. First, after scoring the game-winning goal and generally showing well, it is presumed Ibarra will start on the wing opposite Molino. Second, after starting two defensive midfielders weekly since the signing of Sam Cronin, Heath opted to play Ibson alongside Cronin instead of Warner in an attempt to better connect the back to the front. Success against the reeling Rapids is hardly a bellwether of permanent success, but the more-complementary central midfield pairing showed well enough to warrant a curtain call against San Jose.

About those rose tinted glasses, then. Despite having an optimal or near optimal lineup on the pitch, Minnesota played some portions of the first half against Colorado on the back foot and at best lacked urgency. In part that was a credit to Colorado, which came to play physically and disruptively. That said, against an inferior opponent, at home, and with a style that has showed strongest through quick buildup play and clever passing combinations when overloading a zone, there is no reason for Minnesota to play plodding, contemplative soccer. A higher tempo with a few bold shots (even from distance or imperfect angles) can put a team like Colorado on the defensive. United will hopefully have learned that lesson and will come out against San Jose playing quickly and directly.

San Jose came into the season with a new general manager and without having made any lightning rod moves in the offseason. The Quakes came fast out of the gate with two wins to start the year, but have regressed to the mean (and then some) by going winless in their next six games and not scoring more than one goal in any of those contests. Like Colorado, the Quakes are a team that currently offer more questions than answers, and as with Colorado, the Loons will consider fewer than three points a let down.

One bright spot this season has been Aníbal Godoy in the midfield. Godoy has traditionally played more defensively as someone who is great at cleaning up mistakes and winning back possession in front of the defense. This season has seen him playing somewhat higher up the pitch, a move which rewarded the Quakes with two Godoy goals in their first two games. Wherever he has played on the pitch, the numbers don’t lie: San Jose is 15-10-15 with Godoy in the lineup since he joined in late 2015, but 1-8-5 without him.

For San Jose, connecting its defense to its attack has been an area of opportunity. They have typically played Godoy and a rotating cast alongside him in the center of a very flat 4-4-2. That one of his midfield partners has been Fatai Alashe who has also spent half his time playing in defense this year likely means that there is too much of a defensive focus mindedness in the Quakes’ midfield, which may account for their struggles feeding their offense.

The most recognizable name on the Quakes’ roster is undoubtedly Chris Wondolowski, the all-time leading scorer among active players in MLS, and a USMNT World Cup veteran. Part of what has made Wondo so successful in his career is his preternatural ability to be in the right place at the right time and score goals. He is a forward who cleans up rebounds and garbage goals but rarely hits a wonderstrike from distance or uses pace or creativity to create opportunities. But as such, he is heavily reliant on a good strike partner or midfield support to do what he does best. If he doesn’t have that, it is difficult for him to be effective.

Wondo’s typical strike partner this year has been Marco Ureña. Ureña has looked fine so far, but has suffered from the same problem that Wondolowski has faced. If Ureña is not finding the game himself, it certainly isn’t coming to him. The other forward seeing time this year has been Danny Hoesen, a TAM-level player who suffered a preseason injury and has primarily been used as a substitute as he’s worked toward being 90-minutes fit. If Hoesen can get starting XI healthy, using him as a forward while pushing Ureña into something like a No. 10 role might add some attack-mindedness to the midfield while retaining Hoesen up top.

How will it play out?

Quakes head coach Dominic Kinnear likes his team to bunker when playing on the road. If the starting midfield duo is Godoy and Alashe or Darwin Cerén, then that may be San Jose’s best approach. This will create a lot of midfield congestion for United, but countering by allowing its wingers to play very fluidly and using overlapping full backs to overload areas of its attacking third should play to Minnesota’s strengths.

San Jose will win if…

The Earthquakes can pounce on an improved-yet-still-vulnerable Minnesota defense by forcing quick, reactive decisions. That means playing a press to try to intercept the ball and turn a quick counter, it means some nicely weighted hero ball out of the back, and maybe a little bit of luck. It is hardly impossible.

Minnesota will win if…

Minnesota cannot approach this game timidly or without a sense of urgency. Put San Jose on its heels and let your offense do what it does best.

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