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Quakes New-Look Offense to be Wizard Tested

Posted on 31 March 2009 by mdiamond

Coming off their first victory of the season against the Houston Dynamo, the San Jose Earthquakes look to make it two in a row when they travel to Kansas City to take on the Wizards on Sunday afternoon. The Wizards have had an inauspicious start dropping their first two efforts against Toronto FC and Colorado. KC is the only team in the East without points.

The Wizards are suffering a spate of early injuries forcing them to juggle their lineup. Josh Wolff, who can be a dangerous striker but has had an injury-plagued career, will likely miss the match. Davy Arnaud, who scored both KC goals in the loss to Toronto, is probable with a neck strain.

In general, the Wizards are short on experience. They have former Quake Jimmy Conrad at defense, and Jack Jewsbury and Herculez Gomez in the middle. Forward Claudio Lopez has 58 caps with the Argentine national team including two World Cups. Veteran goalie Kevin Hartman’s two saves against Colorado made him the MLS’s all-time saves leader. Beyond that Kansas City has to fill the rest of the spots with players who have less than two years of MLS exposure.

San Jose, too, is a team in transition. The Quakes offensive strategy so far this year has been a departure from last year. The addition of 6-4 Cam Weaver along with Ryan Johnson at 6-1 has added height to the attacking line. Without that height last year, San Jose relied on more midfield ball control and developing attacks. With the addition of Darren Huckerby midseason, the Quakes got a much-needed boost at left winger resulting in goals that had eluded them at the beginning of the season. While not completely absent this season, the attacking midfield has taken a back seat to putting the ball up and having Weaver or Johnson win the header.

Ryan Johnson acknowledged the shift. “With our size we can be so much more versatile compared to last year. We can play that direct ball. More than fifty percent of the time we’re going to win it. Last year that wasn’t the case because we only had one big guy up there [Johnson]. This year we can take a lot of pressure off the defense, and play that direct ball. It’s been helping us out a lot.”

That confidence may be a bit premature. None of the three goals against the Dynamo came from a forward winning the long ball. Weaver and Johnson got manhandled on 50-50 balls making it very hard to drop off to teammates let alone win it in the first place.

Central midfielder and team captain Ramiro Corrales was more judicious about the offensive approach. “It was one of those games where we played a lot of long balls to the big guys direct. At times I think we should play the ball more through the midfield. It was up and down, and [the midfielders] didn’t get the ball that much.”

Alluding to the first week’s 1-0 loss to New England when the Quakes had more chances but couldn’t break through, Corrales said, “Last week we did a good job and played well, better than this week.”

Many eyes have been on recent acquisition Bobby Convey who played several years with the English side Reading. His experience in the Premier and Champions leagues creates high expectations for the American. Convey has 45 caps with the US National Team, but so far his contribution to the Quakes is muted.

“It was a bit of a track meet out there,” Convey said about the Dynamo game. “It was good to see the guys up there scoring. We played a good team, and they played very well. We sustained the pressure. It was something to build on.”

When asked how it felt to shift from left winger to central midfield, Convey said, “It’s all right. You don’t touch it as much in the middle. Ramiro and I stayed in more and played it out wide. It’s only the second game. I don’t want to use that as an excuse. We want to keep getting better and better. Everybody’s a lot happier when we win, and we just need to keep building on this.”

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Perhaps Quakes’ coach Frank Yallop is giving Convey time to adjust to the new climate, but Bobby has enough time on the pitch to handle himself. By going up top, San Jose avoids involving the midfielders, but they won’t have a chance to develop the necessary teamwork to take the pressure off the stand-up forwards. With the focus on getting the ball directly to the attackers, defenses are mugging them, and so far Weaver and Johnson have been unable to consistently fend them off. Brian Ching is an example of a forward who can fight and keep defenders at bay while looking for a teammate to pour in. The Quakes aren’t there yet, and would benefit by mixing it up a bit more in the midfield to keep defenses guessing. With an effective middle and controlling forwards, the Quakes are capable of making great strides.

Injury report

Wizards: Probable – MF Davy Arnaud – neck strain; Out – FW Adam Cristman – fifth metatarsal fracture; GK Eric Kronber – shoulder surgery; DF Chance Myers- fifth metatarsal fracture; MF Kevin Souter – adductor strain; FW Josh Wolff – hamstring strain

Quakes: Probable – DF Chris Leitch – ankle sprain; Out – DF Jason Hernandez – calf strain

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