Everyone has an inner tactical soccer analyst inside them; it all depends on how you look at the game. Sometimes, the more you try to pick apart tactics, the narrower your vision becomes. A key to tactical analysis is looking beyond the ball at movement off the ball, and gauging the flow of the game.
An easy way of doing this is doubling the speed of your television replay, letting you see the big picture; where moves break down, which channels are exploited by each team and what approach a team is taking to the game. Twenty-two legs scamper across the pitch in double time and each team flows back and forth.
Lately, I have been using this technique more and more when reviewing the San Jose Earthquakes’ latest matches. They’re situation has been perplexing so far this season. They have been slow, disjointed and sloppy in possession, except when they haven’t.
Other times, they’ll spring to life, suffocating their opposition with high pressing and keeping them out with a solid defense; breaking at lightning speed and playing the opposition off the park.
Against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday night, we saw both sides of the Quakes. They ended the first half without a single shot on target and could hardly string a set of passes together. Dominic Kinnear has hardly ever appeared as frustrated on the touchline and, at times, his players seemed completely lost. Jordan Morris’ incisive movement up top spread havoc through the Quakes’ back-line and only scrappy, desperate defending held Seattle to one goal going into the break.
However, the Quakes rebounded in the second half with purpose and verve. Chris Wondolowski uncharacteristically missed an opportunity to pull the Quakes level from the penalty spot and Simon Dawkins also hit the underside of the crossbar with a lovely free-kick. The Quakes looked like they were on the path towards their third turnaround of the season, but Seattle nipped another goal at the death to put the game to bed.
Although Kinnear’s starting eleven might have seemed strange in the extreme, injury explained most of the changes (aside from a brief experiment with Shea Salinas through the middle, an easy fix). Kinnear has been dealt a poor hand in recent weeks, a growing injury list (Fatai Alashe, Marc Pelsoi, Jordan Stewart, Quincy Amarikwa, Clarence Goodson, Cordell Cato and Mark Sherrod) colliding with their first string of away games of the season, amounting to what has been a dreadful run of form on the road.
Saturday’s loss emphasized the importance of Fatai Alashe and Anibal Godoy, who formed a formidable midfield partnership at the end of last season, but were absent Saturday due to injury and suspension, respectively. In the five games Alashe and Godoy have started together this season, the Quakes have had the fourth-best passing accuracy in the league, and, by contrast, have had the lowest tally in the league without the two midfielders. Their woes have been compounded by the long-term absence of Marc Pelosi, who was similarly impressive at the end of last season.
At the back, Clarence Goodson’s indefinite back-injury and Jordan Stewart’s long-term absence have forced Kinnear to rotate through a cast of replacements, including Andres Imperiale, Shaun Francis, Kofi Sarkodie and Kip Colvey (notably, Dom has been reluctant to utilize Matheus Silva).
Although Colvey put together a promising string of performances early in the season, Francis returned to the starting position after recovering from injury and has been the weak link in our back line, caught out on countless occasions.
If they’re any upside to the injury crisis, though, it’s that it has given Kinnear a better understanding of the players he signed in the offseason. He’s dropped Matias Perez-Garcia (the most controversial personnel decision Kinnear has made this season, a situation which is becoming increasingly bristly) to start Alberto Quintero on the right and give Simon Dawkins ample opportunities on the opposite wing.
Shea Salinas, meanwhile, has been fantastic coming off the bench as a substitute, so much so that it calls into question why he ever lost the starting position in the first place. He fills the void in pace the Quakes otherwise suffer from in the midfield and the draw at Philadelphia was an excellent example of how he can open up the game.
The Quakes have scored 1.6 goals per ninety minutes with Salinas on the pitch so far this season, and only .5 without him. Bearing in mind that he has only played 365 of our 900 minutes so far and we score just as many before and after our first substitute, this isn’t some fluke of statistics. This is our man Shea working his magic!
Dawkins’ statistics have been much less sightly, and opinions regarding his impact diverge wildly. Promisingly, however, he has grown into his role and is showing a significant upturn in form in the last game-and-a-half, when Kinnear moved him from the wing and into the middle. Through the middle he’s had a much greater effect and doesn’t sacrifice Salinas, who has been, on the whole, much more consistent and influential this season.
Kinnear will eventually have to choose between the two when Godoy and Alashe return to the starting lineup (or will drop Quintero and awkwardly shove Dawkins wide right), but given the impending Copa Centenario, he will have months to sit on that decision. These last two games before the Copa, though, will provide an interesting taste of the weeks to come, assuming Alashe and Quincy Amarikwa (whose work-rate was sorely missed against Seattle), return to the starting lineup, having missed the Seattle game with minor strains.
And so the Quakes head into a midweek meeting with Kinnear’s old side the Houston Dynamo. With Godoy, Alashe and Amarikwa scheduled to return to the starting lineup, San Jose will be much more confident and, for a brief moment before the Copa America, they might have the luxury of some stability.