SAN JOSE, Calif. – It’s easy, when looking casually at Seattle Sounders FC, to be blinded by David Estrada’s MLS-leading four-goal total – five, if you include his tally in CONCACAF Champions League play.
If you’re scouting the Sounders, however, Estrada fades into the background. Or, more accurately, you can see that the rest of Seattle have shined just as brightly in the club’s flying 2-0-0 start to 2012.
For the San Jose Earthquakes, dimming that high-voltage attack Saturday night (10 pm ET; watch LIVE online) is the unenviable task facing a defense that has yet to give up a goal from the run of play this year.
“There’s not one thing where you say, ‘If we stop them doing this, we have a great chance,’” Quakes coach Frank Yallop told reporters on Thursday. “We’ve got to be ready for everything, because from Brad Evans to [Álvaro] Fernández to [Fredy] Montero, Estrada, Roger Levesque and [Osvaldo] Alonso, they’ve got some good weapons and good players throughout.”
HAT TRICK: Estrada hits for a third
With Estrada powering the Sounders via a hat trick against Toronto FC and another game-winner vs. Houston, the Quakes face a problem similar to what they pose to other teams: whether to blanket the leading man (in San Jose’s case, Chris Wondolowski), or try to starve him of any quality service.
“[Estrada] has been the end contributor to the chances they’ve created as a team,” Yallop said. “But Fredy Montero is a good player; he’s going to score goals. It’s not just one focus for us.”
San Jose right back Steven Beitashour, who will be tasked with slowing down two-assist man Fernández on Seattle’s left side, knows from experience in practice how tough it is to keep a handle on a crafty forward. After all, he battles Wondolowski in practice every day.
“It’s a team game, so you can’t just focus on one player,” Beitashour said. “Obviously, when someone else has the ball, you can’t lose him, because that’s what forwards like Estrada and Wondo are doing right now – they tend to lose you when you focus on the ball. So you always have to be aware of him, but at the same time don’t let him get the ball. They can’t just go dribble the whole field. Someone’s passing him the ball.”
To that end, the Quakes will likely try to control possession, stifle progress by Seattle into the attacking third and force turnovers early and often whenever the Sounders do get the ball. For Yallop, it’s a bit like game-planning against his own squad.
“They press the ball well, they work hard – they kind of do all the things that we do,” Yallop said. “We’re trying to press, when it’s on. We try to have a high-tempo passing game, which they do. We’ve done a nice job of not really giving up many good goal-scoring chances for anybody. Teams get a little frustrated with that, too, and they start to take longer-range shots without really getting around the goal. They force the play. It makes a difference.”
The Quakes traveled Friday armed with the knowledge that, despite a 1-3 lifetime record at CenutryLink Field, they’re better-equipped to deal with the frenzied fans and a team that’s aiming for the MLS Cup.
“We’re going into Seattle with high hopes of getting a result, and I think we’re ready to do that,” Yallop said. “A few times, you’ve kind of gone, ‘Pfft, that’s a real tough one.’ But we’re actually looking forward to going there.”
The Quakes will not have the services of Turkish-German striker Sercan Güvenisik, who suffered a strained hip flexor early in Tuesday’s 1-0 Reserve League win over the Portland Timbers and is expected to miss a couple of weeks.
San Jose also may be without midfielder Brad Ring, who missed practice Thursday with a sore shin.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org