San Jose presents tactical decision: mark 'em out, push up, or pinch in?

San Jose presents tactical decision: mark 'em out, push up, or pinch in?


What a long week it's been. Thankfully, it's Friday, and we can turn our attention quite genuinely toward our next opponent. We're not exactly shaking in our boots (heh) but we are facing the second-placed team in the West: San Jose Earthquakes. Wait, what? It is undoubtedly a bit of a reversal from last season, where the 'Quakes finished in the bottom five in the league, but if I'm not mistaken, they're undergoing a bit of renaissance at current and should be raring to go against our side.

San Jose's last match was a 2-2 road draw against New York, and before that, a 3-1 win at home against Vancouver. Let's take a look at that home match, as we'll be playing them at Buck Shaw, and see what we can derive from that. We'll also look at their 3-0 win at Toronto to gain some perspective about their road performances.

On first glance, we can see that against Vancouver, San Jose seemed to rely on their full backs to shore up the midfield — though not quite in the same way we do. Where our full backs push forward and provide passing options, the San Jose full backs seem to sometimes step into spaces where our box-to-box midfielders typically are found. However, against Toronto, the full-backs also acted in a more wedge-shaped fashion, with the base being in the defensive third — at times, they appear to have acted as a flat back four, where other times, they acted as traditional full backs. Watching their play will be interesting, no doubt.

In fact, this match against Toronto — you know, the one they won 3-0 — saw San Jose finish with pitiful 60 percent passing. Their back five (including Jon Busch, the goalkeeper who we put four past last time) finished with 50 percent passing. And still, they won: Why? The answer is simple: Chris Wondolowski. I mean, surely, there's more to it than that (Shea Salinas scored one of the goals, but he won't be an issue for us) but as has been much vaunted recently, the Wondo scores at will. It's a bit terrifying, the prospect. How do we cope with a striker who finds gaps with ease? Let's explore.

1. Pull our full backs in a little more narrow, leaving less space for Wondolowski to exploit in the center. This takes a certain awareness and understanding, and if we're playing our first-choice defensive line, we'll have that in droves. If there's less space, he'll have to try to either work past the defense with the ball, or he'll have to try to burst past them. I'm not sure either is his strong point.

2. Let him have space — but higher up the pitch. Playing a high-line defense might not work against sides like Sporting KC, who will beat you every time for pace, but against a side like San Jose, it might not be the worst idea. Now, I could well be wrong, and San Jose could be speedy as all get out — there's that caveat. We'll certainly sacrifice a chance or two if we take this approach, but it may be the ironically safer selection.

3. Mark him out of the game. This would require pulling one of our midfielders into a man-marking role, and while I'm always wary of taking a player out of the zonal marking system while the rest of the squad remains, it might be the best option. Alternately, instead of pulling a midfielder out, instructing one of our central defenders to focus on him may also work. Perhaps if Nat Borchers were to mark him while Olave had a more roaming role, we'd find success.

Of course, there's always the possibility that two central strikers will make an appearance — Lenhart, perhaps? — but I've got to think that, given our penchant for attacking play, San Jose will play a slightly more reactive system. We can hope, at least: On our day, we can break down tight opposing defenses. We'll have to if we're to show our promise this season.