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San Jose Earthquakes forced into another personnel, formation shift ahead of Vancouver Whitecaps clash

After the San Jose Earthquakes deployed a 4-1-4-1 formation against the LA Galaxy last month, interim head coach Mark Watson cautioned against reading too much into the change, saying it had as much to do with the suspension-induced absence of midfielder Rafael Baca as anything else.

With Baca suspended again for the Quakes’ key clash against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, MLS Live), perhaps some re-reading is in order.

Watson cannot recreate the setup he used against the Galaxy; forward Steven Lenhart, who was the point of the spear in that match, is also suspended due to yellow-card accumulation. But he has a wealth of options at his disposal with Victor Bernardez, Marvin Chavez (both Honduras) and Clarence Goodson (US) all returning from World Cup qualifiers.

Watson liked the 4-1-4-1 because the Quakes felt Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane were good bets to wreak havoc if they were given space between the back four and midfield. Changing the formation allowed Sam Cronin to serve as a classic holding midfielder in hopes of shutting that duo down.

The Whitecaps have proven themselves most dangerous on the counterattack, a point which was rammed home by Vancouver last month in a 2-0 victory against San Jose. The hosts’ first scoring sequence began with a simple turnover forced by Lee Young-Pyo. That triggered to a scything run from Nigel Reo-Coker, who then slid a pass to Camilo for the finishing touch before San Jose’s defense could recover from getting caught with too many men upfield. A holding midfielder might have provided goal-saving cover in that instance.

“We’re looking at all the scenarios right now,” Watson told this week. “We’ve got a team that did well last game. We’ve got players coming back from international duty. One thing we will continue to be is aggressive. Whatever formation we put on the field, it’s going to look to get after it from the start.”

The Quakes had plenty of aggressiveness in their 1-0 defeat of the Philadelphia Union last Sunday. San Jose generated 16 corner kicks, setting a new franchise record in the process. Although they didn’t cash any in, it was a healthy sign for an offense that still languishes just above the 1.00 goals-per-match level.

“We didn’t have the biggest lineup on Sunday, but I think getting corner kicks is just a testament to how much pressure, how much thrust you have going forward,” Watson said. “Until [Baca’s] sending off, I thought we were good. We would get into good areas, run at defenders, and forced them to defend. We had them on the back foot for most of the game. Once we get there, we hope to convert on a few set pieces.”

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