Shutting down Chris Wondolowski and co. tonight is going to be a very tall task for the Fire defense. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
With the whirlwind that was yesterday and the close of the transfer window behind us, it's time to look forward to tonight's game. Unfortunately I didn't hear back from the Quakes blog editor for a 3 questions exchange. Instead, I am here this morning to bring you a preview with a few things I will be looking for in tonight's match up. As usual, we will have a gamethread up as well like we usually do for those that want to join us during the game. Additionally, our very own Mark O'Rourke will be covering the game from the Buck Shaw pressbox tonight. Look for updates from him as well as a recap after the game is over.
The Fire will certainly need to be on their "A" game tonight as they face the high octane offense that is San Jose. San Jose's defense can be scored on fortunately, but if we give up multiple goals it is going to be hard to come out of Buck Shaw Stadium with a result, let alone 3 points. Follow me after the break for a few points in my mind right now ahead of tonight's game...
Fire defense vs. San Jose offense
While this is a fairly obvious choice to most people, it can't be overlooked. San Jose features a 3 headed scoring monster in Wondolowski, Alan Gordon, and Steven Lenhart. Wondo's 17 goals thus far in MLS play speaks for itself. Alan Gordon seems to always be in the right place at the right time to notch a huge goal. It seems like he has scored more clutch goals by himself this year than most players do in their entire careers. Lenhart is a big, physical presence that uses all of his 6'1" frame to create havoc. With San Jose it almost seems like it is a "pick your poison" situation in most cases. You can focus on shutting down one or even two of these guys, but then another player steps on the pitch that can score.
Fortunately, the Fire defense has been very good, giving up only 5 goals in the last 7 matches in MLS play. And that has been against some very good teams. The backline has been splendid, Austin Berry has been a prodigy, and Sean Johnson has been on a role. The Men in Red's 22 goals allowed is only a higher tally than 3 other MLS teams, so the defense is certainly there. We will need all of that and then some tonight to keep the vaunted San Jose attack in check.
One thing I think is necessary to see tonight is a veteran backline. Dan Gargan has not started a couple of games recently, with Jalil Anibaba sliding over to Gargan's RB spot. I have said this before. and I'll say it again. Jalil is a very capable RB, but his best position is still at CB. With the form that Berry is in and the German International Arne Friedrich, Jalil should start on the bench tonight. With a dangerous attack like this, we need as much experience out on the pitch as we can get. I think a Gargan/Berry/Friedrich/Segares back 4 is not only the best way to go, it's the only way to go.
Speed, Speed, Speed
One thing to keep in mind with a team like San Jose is their positioning on the field, especially when they are on attack. If you have watched any of their games, part of the equation in them scoring so much is that they get a lot of players up the field. Our own Stephen Piggott, who also writes his tactical previews for the official Fire website now, echoed this sentiment in his tactical preview piece that hit the Fire website yesterday. I agree 100% with what he said and wanted to get him a shout out. Pushing up the field like this creates holes, and with the speed of a player like Oduro, I am hoping for some prime counter attack opportunities.
Patrick Nyarko will play a big role as he should have room to work out on the wings with gaps like these on the field. One player I am really intrigued to watch is Alex. He is still learning the league and gelling with his teammates, and tonight I think he will really have a chance to create. Rather than being smothered in midfield like we have seen many Fire opponents try to do recently, he should have more room to let his play flow and create offense. I think this could be a really big game for his development, and could be a big step in the right direction if he can give the offense a boost against a very tough team.
New faces join the Fire
The last week has been busy with additions and subtractions to the team as you have seen here at HTIOT. After cutting Puppo and Robayo out of the equation for the time being, the team has added striker Sherjill MacDonald and midfielder Alvaro Fernandez. While Alvaro looks like he will be with the team, I would be extremely surprised to see him play. On the other hand I expect to see Sherjill get a chunk pf playing time tonight.
How the game goes will dictate when he enters play. If we need some offensive punch, he could come in earlier in the second half or even at halftime (I don't think he will start). If we have a lead or are locked in a tie, then he may come on as a later sub. No matter when he does enter play, all eyes will be on him to see what he has got. Everyone in Fire land knows we need more offense, and Sherjill has been the man tabbed as the striker we need to fill that gap. While it may seem a bit unfair to throw that amount of pressure on him, we acquired Sherjill to produce and that's what we need him to do. Time will tell what actually get but here's to hoping for the best and supporting him completely.
Happy with a tie or go for the kill?
Depending on how this match goes tonight, we could see a couple of different strategies play out. As with the New York game, as the match wore on I got the feeling that getting a point in New York would be a good result. I think Frank and most other fans felt that way to, and the team seemed to drop back and play mostly defense with the occasional counter attack. Unfortunately a world class soccer player scored a phenomenal goal late, and by then it was too late for us to take a result out of Red Bull Arena.
If the game progresses along a similar line tonight, where the game is tied heading into the later part of play, I think we should again go for the point. Don't get me wrong, I would love to have 3 points every match but I am confident most of you realize when 1 point is not only an acceptable result, but sometimes a good result as well. San Jose is a very good, very tough team, and we are playing them on the road. This is a tough environment for any team to play in, especially when you throw in the fact that the Quakes pretty much score goals at will. 1 point tonight would be a good result and what I would consider a success.
Now, I expect this match to be a very open, fast paced, free flowing match with lots and lots of counter attacks. It could be a pretty high scoring one (and if so let's hope that works out in our favor). If we are able to create good chances and consistent pressure and we find ourselves tied or even with the lead late, I would like to see us push for those 3 points. Yes, sometimes it can cost you, but on the flip side, way too many teams "park the bus" with a lead. The problem is that sometimes playing extra cautious can be more dangerous than pushing for the bigger cushion. Playing it safe can sometimes equal to losses accumulated and points being dropped just as easily as gained. Again, how the game unfolds will dictate which strategy and result would be the best. In my opinion, this will be one of the most intriguing and fun games to watch so far this year. There definitely won't be a lack of action tonight.