When the San Jose Earthquakes brought in French midfielder Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi as one of their biggest moves this offseason, it seemed to solidify the center of the park for the Quakes – on paper, at least.
On the pitch, it hasn’t yet turned out that way.
The pairing of Pierazzi and incumbent Sam Cronin – last season’s team MVP – is still gelling, which may be one reason the Quakes are still searching for more scoring.
With four goals in three MLS matches, San Jose are right in the middle of the pack when it comes to finding the back of the net. Yet in terms of creating “big chances,” as defined by Opta Sports, the Quakes are tied for dead last. That means San Jose are not using pinpoint passing to set up players in a position where they should, in Opta’s judgment, be expected to score, relying instead on their set-piece strength to carry them.
“I think it’s taken a little bit of time throughout preseason to get comfortable,” Cronin told MLSsoccer.com last week. “Our whole team has been a little bit disjointed. We’re really looking forward to the time when everyone’s fit and healthy and can train together as a unit. But in terms of us in the middle, we’re going to keep improving, keep getting better and just getting familiar with each other in each training session and each game.”
Upon the arrival of Pierazzi, the 28-year-old former captain of French Ligue 1 outfit Ajaccio, there were doubters who wondered how successful the Quakes would be at trying to turn a career defensive midfielder into a box-to-box player.
Coach Mark Watson continues to hold fast to his belief that results will come as Cronin and Pierazzi get more instinctive at knowing in any given situation which player should advance up the field and which should hang back to provide a defensive screen for the back line.
“We’re still working on some understanding stuff with those guys,” Watson told reporters Thursday. “We absolutely want one guy to sit a little deeper and one to go forward.
"The movement patterns are something we’re still working on. It doesn’t happen overnight. And one of the things that we like to do is have one of our midfielders make runs from central areas. It depends on movement of other players, which is part of the equation. That’s something we’re looking at and it will come with time.”
There have been successful stretches at times for the Quakes; most notably, in the second half against Real Salt Lake, San Jose stormed out after being bossed around during the first 45 minutes by the visitors’ Kyle Beckerman-anchored diamond formation. The Quakes neutralized the US international after intermission, eventually finding the two goals they needed to forge a 3-3 tie.
“I think we’ve proven that when we have all 11 guys on the same page, moving as one and defending as one, that there’s not much space on the field for their team,” Cronin said. “In the RSL game, for example, we were a little bit too disjointed and we need to tighten it up a little from our back four all the way up to our center forward.
"Those are things we’re all working on, to get sharper and continue to improve.”