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Match Preview: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Minnesota United FC

by on 21 October 2017

Well, this is it. By the time dinner is over Sunday, Minnesota United’s inaugural season in MLS will be in the books. There are plenty of emotions to feel at this point: sadness at the end of a special year, relief at the merciful conclusion of this tough season, optimism or pessimism for what comes next. It’s possible to feel all these. But before we get there, Minnesota has a chance to end the year on a high note, hopefully avoid an ignominious all-time record, and play spoiler in dashing San Jose’s playoff hopes.

Recent form

San Jose D W L L W -5
GD
1.40
PPG
Minnesota L D W L W Even
GD
1.40
PPG

Previous meetings

The Earthquakes visited TCF Bank Stadium in April and walked away with three road points to snap what had been a six game winless run. Minnesota, to its credit, started the game strong, had the better of the chances early in the game, and did not allow a first half goal. A bit of pinball on a San Jose corner, however, found the ball resting at center back Florian Jungwirth’s feet, who cleaned up. The lone goal was enough for the win, and considering the playoff stakes on the final day of the season, those hard won points became more significant than anyone would have imagined that day.

Officials

Referee Hilario Grajeda
Assistant Jonathan Johnson
Assistant Michael Kampmeinert
Fourth Alejandro Mariscal
VAR Ramy Touchan

Roster report

San Jose Earthquakes
D Harold Cummings (leg surgery) – Out
D Marvell Wynne (heart abnormality) – Out
M Fatai Alashe (quad injury) – Out
D Nick Lima (hamstring injury) – Out

Minnesota United
M Bernardo Añor (hamstring injury) – Out
D Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles) – Out
M Sam Cronin (head injury) – Out

Tactical outlook

It is unclear what is the answer to what happened last week against the Los Angeles Galaxy, except maybe to visit your preferred religious institution and ask the deity of your choice. Most Loons on the pitch were ineffective at best, and lacked any pace or urgency at worst. It was a mental and attitudinal performance that cannot be repeated.

However, the lineup and formation, which raised more than a few eyebrows, are not specifically to blame. Well, not wholly, anyway. As playoffs slipped from Minnesota’s reach and eyes turned to next season, the idea of trying new things tactically to consider the possibilities for 2018 began to make a lot of sense. As hard as it is on fans, sometimes the egg laid against the Galaxy is the price of that experimentation.

It was, in an unsatisfying way, actually an instructive bit of tinkering. We learned that playing Kevin Molino as an inverted winger may not be the direction to take. We learned, or were reminded, that Minnesota simply does not have the players to play anything resembling a 4-3-3 and that the club should leave the 4-4-2 alone, as well. These lessons and others can help Minnesota think through the types of players it needs for next season, and how those players could fit together.

There is one more game this season. If coach Adrian Heath is still looking to experiment a bit, perhaps a 4-1-4-1 would be worth a run. This would put a defensive midfielder of choice in the hole, then push Ibson higher up the pitch to fulfill more of a creative role. Ethan Finlay would be on the inside right – something of an advanced No. 8 favoring the right side – and allow Molino to play as a right winger, his preferred home. Miguel Ibarra would be the left winger, and a single striker would be left up top, as a Christian Ramirez/Abu Danladi strike partnership has not quite panned out so far.

The all-time MLS record for goals allowed in a season is 69. Minnesota currently sits on 67. While avoiding that negative distinction may be on the minds of players, coaches, and front office personnel, it really should not affect the play style on Sunday. It would be a record long-since earned, and playing defensively and out of character in one game likely does more harm to avoiding that distinction than to helping.

A last thought. San Jose is not a good team. That it is on the cusp of qualifying for the playoffs may have convinced many that this is not the case, but the Earthquakes have a goal differential of -22, exactly the same as Minnesota United. Because MLS uses wins as a first tiebreaker rather than goal differential, San Jose is able to bumble and stumble into the postseason in spite of this shockingly poor overall performance. This is a winnable match for Minnesota, though it should expect San Jose to come out lively with everything to play for. A listless performance again will not do for the Loons. Whatever other experimentation comes tactically, the eleven players on the pitch need to play like they want to be part of the 2018 picture.

How will it play out?

San Jose, playing at home and with a win guaranteeing a postseason appearance, will play on the front foot and attack early and often. Minnesota will find itself playing counterattacking soccer and absorbing pressure. The game will be won and lost in the midfield battle, with Darwin Cerén and Aníbal Godoy squaring off against Ibson and the defensive midfielder du jour.

San Jose will win if…

The occasion and the fan support may be enough to carry the day. The Earthquakes will need to take advantage of that early energy and get out in front right away. An early lead has proved hard to overcome for Minnesota this year.

Minnesota will win if…

The flip side of an emotional game like this is that it can cause some empty-headed errors, whether a foul of passion or a player, intoxicated by the moment, making a glorious run out of position to try to be the hero. Minnesota will have chances to counter those mistakes if it can do the opposite: play level-headed, organized, positionally sound soccer, then take advantage of its chances when they come.


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  • nomadic loon

    The last game is Loonies from the Lakes vs Goonies from the Bay. The history features probably 2 of the top 10 games in Minnesota soccer history. One in 1976, the other in 2004.
    In 1967, the two leagues that merged to form the NASL a year later each had a bay area team. In the NPSL were the Oakland Clippers who won the championship; and the USA had the San Francisco Golden Gate Gales who were not very successful. The wise Gales’ owners knew they wouldn’t be able to compete in the same market with a more successful team, took their $$ and decided to invest in the Vancouver NASL team. Ironically, the Oakland Clippers only lasted a year in the NASL and became an independent team in 1969.
    In 1974, the San Jose Earthquakes joined the NASL, played their home games at Spartan Stadium, and were a long-standing NASL team that had matches with the Kicks and Strikers. The Kicks won 5 of their 7 meetings with the San Jose Earthquakes and Alan Willey had 8 goals in those 7 meetings. One game where he didn’t score really stands out. On 25 August 1976, the Kicks hosted the San Jose Earthquakes for the Western Conference championship and won 3-1 with 49,572 in attendance at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. This was the highest attended Kicks game ever and is still 2nd highest Minnesota soccer home game. It was a Triple AAA night as Alan West, Ade Coker, and Ace Ntsoelengoe scoring for the Kicks; with the great Ilija Mitic scoring for San Jose (who had a roster full of Yugoslavians). Future coach Geoff Barnett was in goal with Frank Spraggon, Sam Bick, Alan Merrick, Ron Futcher, Steve Litt, Peter Brine, Ron Webster and Alan Willey also on the roster.
    The Minnesota Strikers won 2 of 3 meetings with the Earthquakes (who were known as the Golden Bay Earthquakes during those years). When the NASL folded, the Earthquakes moved to the Western Soccer Alliance until 1988. Some great players from the Earthquake empire: Paul Child, António Simões, Steve Zungel, and George Best.
    The Minnesota Thunder had a few encounters with bay area teams. In 1995, they were in the same league as the Monterey Bay Jaguars and San Francisco Diablos, but never met. The California Jaguars were a Salinas-based team who beat the Thunder in the 1996 USISL Select League semi-final in Richmond, Virginia. They met three more times in A-League regular season matches (1997-98) with Thunder going 0-3. The Thunder did go 2-0 against another A-league bay team, the San Francisco Bay Seals (1998-99). In 2007, the Thunder were in the USL D1 league and faced the California Victory (from San Francisco) four times. Three of the games were regular season and the results were 1-1-1. The fourth game was the 2nd round of the USOC at James Griffin Stadium and the Thunder lost 0-1. Brian Farber was the only Thunder player who ever scored against the Victory.
    Which brings us to the MLS Earthquakes (who started as the Clash as an inaugural member of the league). The Thunder lost in a 2002 friendly in front of 8,000+ fans at NSC; and lost again in the heartbreaking 2004 USOC quarter final at James Griffin Stadium. Melvin Tarley had a goal in less than 5 minutes, but the Earthquake came back and took a 2-1 lead until Dustin Branan’s 77’ goal sent the game to overtime. The game went to a shootout and the Earthquakes were centered by a player named Landon Donovan and won the shootout 5-4. Amazingly the Earthquakes almost lost the franchise in 2005, when the ownership group threatened to leave if they didn’t get a new stadium (sound familiar?). They did leave – to Houston and became the Dynamo. But Don Garber, made a condition that they couldn’t take the name and logo with them (I wish the same mandate would have happened when Norm Greene took the North Stars to Dallas so we wouldn’t be stuck with a team called Wild). So although there was no soccer in San Jose for two years, the EARTHQUAKES were back in 2008 with different owners. The Loons lost the first one this year, putting the overall Minnesota vs Earthquakes/Bay teams record at 10W-12L-1D. Let’s finish with a win. Go Loons!