For whatever reason, though, opponents don’t approach them like an elite them. The rest of the league hasn’t shaken the image of the Quakes as the team from the first four games of the year (record: 0-4-0), the one that deserved to be in the Big West Conference.
At the same time, it’s also becoming increasingly clear that you can’t play against the Quakes the way you play against other teams. If you try the same things you attempt against other teams, you will get overrun. The Earthquakes use their man-marking system to turn the game into a collection of unique pictures, moments they know better than you; and within those moments, they make you run more than most games, and they win the fitness battle.
If think you can deal with those aspects, bless your heart. It’s possible, but it’s probably not wise to try. Instead, here are two adjustments that you can implement that week that would help:
When you have the ball…
Trust your attacking patterns and feel comfortable hitting blind passes. Every soccer team, like a basketball team, has (or at least should have) both a motion offense and set plays (or patterns, in soccer terms). What looks fluid on your TV screen often has been practiced dozens of times in training. You need to trust those patterns more than ever when you play the Quakes.
The man-marking system restricts time and space on the ball. Whereas a zonal defensive system allows you to have time on the ball in certain scenarios, scenarios professional players have memorized, the man-marking system takes those away. You almost never a chance to pick up your head and evaluate the field.
The good thing is, you shouldn’t have to. You get to decide where the San Jose defenders go. You can pull them out of certain zones. Therefore, you can decide where there is open space. You can decide what patterns you want to run.
For example, San Jose’s outside backs follow the opponent’s wingers into the middle of the field. It leaves a giant gap outside of their center backs, something you can see above. You know that gap is there; trust that the gap is there. When the ball comes into you in midfield, hit the pass into that zone without looking. Trust that your teammate, whom you’ve already rehearsed this with in practice, will be there. Use San Jose’s aggression against them.
When the Quakes have the ball…
Draw your line of confrontation at midfield. Do not let yourself get stretched.
San Jose stretch the crap out of the field when they are in possession. They start with their outside backs on the touchline, their wingers on the touchline. They hope to spread the field as wide as possible to spread the defense as wide as possible.
And you, as the other team, look across the field at Guram Kashia, Florian Jungwirth, Daniel Vega and Judson and you tell yourself, “we feel comfortable pressing those guys when they are isolated.” But those guys have become really good at dealing with the ball under pressure. It’s actually been really weird to watch. You think they are in trouble and then they get out of it. Whatever you used to think of them as possession players, toss it out. They will break the pressure; they will find ways to move the ball forward and get Cristian Espinoza and Vako with a head of steam attacking the space you just left.
Don’t take the bait. Force them to come to you. Make San Jose move the ball side to side. Make them use the ball to create openings, opposed to using their starting positions. Once again, turn their style against them -- when they stretch the field, they become more susceptible to counterattacks. The one team that sat in a middle block against them, the New England Revolution under interim manager Mike Lapper, beat the Quakes 3-1.
It might not be the way you envisioned played the San Jose Earthquakes. But those days are gone. The Quakes are good right now, and you need to give them the same respect you give LAFC, Seattle, or Portland. They deserve special attention. If you put in the time, there are openings to exploit.