SAN JOSE, Calif. — After a lackluster start to the Matias Almeyda era, the San Jose Earthquakes have turned around their fortunes, losing just one of five games and earning laudable draws on the road in the month of April — specifically against the likes of the Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas.
During the ongoing stretch of convincing performances, the words "man-to-man marking" have been said so routinely that they pose as synonymous with 'El Pelado' and his tactical setup. But do the Quakes solely thrive off of a man-marking scheme? Is it a man-to-man style to begin with?
"We only have one set style of play that we have been using the entire time," Almeyda said during his weekly press conference at Avaya Stadium. "We like it, we practice it in training, and for those who have any doubts, come see us in training. Then you will see for yourself, right? This (categorizing his style) happens in many places. It's very easy to form your own opinions of a system of play. To generalize that we mark man-to-man is erroneous.”
There is no question about it: The Quakes play with a peculiar style and, as a result, have turned into the league's oddballs on the field. The team doesn't field a solid backline, suffocates the opponents as soon as they lose the ball, and implements a direct, dynamic attacking style.
To the former Argentine midfielder, however, there are fundamental reasons — that stretch beyond the influence famous managers such as Marcelo Bielsa and Arrigo Sacchi had on him — on why he adopted the tactical strategy he's been implementing since his coaching days began a day after River Plate was relegated in 2011.
"I got tired of seeing anti-soccer," he said. "For me, the anti-soccer people wait and allow their team to be carried by individual efforts. Our scheme involves everyone playing and everyone running. Everyone is committed and whoever is not committed is left to be exposed.
"We don't believe in star players; the stars are far away in the sky and cannot be touched," he added. "We believe in the same soccer we played in our youth, to enjoy it."
Despite the team's present auspicious streak, the general sense at Earthquakes Way is that there is plenty of work to be done to a system that permits the players to play with "liberty" and "ambition." After all, the season is long, and the team has only two wins to boast about.
However, the commitment to double down is a testament that San Jose's latest style of play is set to stay as long as Almeyda marches the box, and regardless of its inconvenience to opponents in what is set to be a challenging campaign.
"I don't see our system being strange at all," Almeyda said about being comfortable with his tactical philosophy. "Our system is about pressuring at times, waiting in others. In our style, during the majority of games, we have kept possession of the ball — 80 percent of the games we've played."
"So, when our style is analyzed as only man-to-man marking, [what about] the rest of our play? Did they forget to see that?," he quipped. "We try to play from the back, we try to make combination (passes), there are a lot of things to analyze. There was an assistant coach of a team we played recently that told one of our players that, '[What we were playing] wasn't soccer. I say, 'What is soccer?' Soccer is surprises, strategy. That is soccer, and we are all a part of it."