TBM: 2012 was something of a dream regular-season campaign for San Jose. After what seemed to be very little key turnover in players, 2013 proved to be almost the exact opposite. Can you talk a little about why that happened, and whether or not the right issues were addressed for 2014?
RJ: One issue was that the Earthquakes began the 2013 season with a complacency that led to a series of draws and losses in games the season before were wins and draws. Perhaps modeling their behavior too much after the hubris shown by the LA Galaxy in 2012 following their MLS Cup championship, the Quakes admitted that they felt they could turn things on whenever they felt they were ready. Unfortunately, it took a coaching change to shake loose of their early season doldrums, and though interim head coach Mark Watson led the team to the best record in MLS over the last three months of the season, the Earthquakes missed out on the playoffs due to a tiebreaker with the Colorado Rapids. Watson is in charge from the very beginning in 2014, so it is unlikely the same complacent behavior will be manifested by these Quakes.
A big difference on the field was the departure of English midfielder Simon Dawkins at the end of the 2012 season. On loan from Tottenham, Dawkins played two years in San Jose and was a dynamic part of the Earthquakes attack. Calm on the ball and able to cut in from the left wing, Dawkins commanded attention from opposing defenders, opening up space in the area for the Quakes' attacking corps of Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart, and Alan Gordon. Without the Hotspur man orchestrating matters in 2013, the offense slumped from consistent lack of service as Shea Salinas was tasked with too much of that responsibility. Correcting that deficiency, the Earthquakes signed Portugal winger Yannick Djalo on loan from Benfica. The crafty ball-handler was cleared to play earlier this week and will likely make his Quakes' debut, off the bench, against the Revolution on Saturday.
TBM: The Quakes' full body of work in March featured two draws and two losses, but it looks as though the Goonies are still scoring goals in stoppage time to scrape out some results. What is it about this club that makes them so dangerous late in the game?
RJ: Gordon was asked almost the same question following the team's heroic comeback against Real Salt Lake in the season opener, and the tall target man simply said that such determination is in the team's DNA. While such a biological justification seems farfetched scientifically, he did hit on the team's collective attitude when it comes to playing games through to the final whistle. Every player, to a tee, will say that they would rather not have to rely on stoppage time goals to get results - 17 second half stoppage time goals scored since the start of the 2012 season, 15 have led to points earned for the Quakes - but the thrill of the comeback is intoxicating. Add in the pull from the sell-out crowds at Buck Shaw Stadium, the Earthquakes have a 21-game unbeaten streak at the little college stadium that could, and it is little surprise that San Jose has seen so many late game spectacles.
On the flip side, opponents seem all too ready to let the Quakes seize the momentum late in games, most evident in watching an RSL side known for possession tactics resort to long clearances over the last 30 minutes of the season opener. The Utah side was leading 3-1 at halftime, and opened the second half playing in much the same way that saw them take the lead: keep the ball away from the Quakes. However, when San Jose dialed up the pressure, RSL abandoned its tactics and allowed the Earthquakes unimpeded access into the attacking half of the field. A comeback, even from two goals, seemed inevitable to those in attendance. Victor Bernardez must have felt it too, as his brace in the last quarter hour secured a point for the Quakes against the defending Western Conference champions.
TBM: Last season, the fullback tandem of Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour was heralded, in many ways, as one of the most solid and talented fullback tandems in the league. Now they're both gone. Was that a good move for the Quakes, and have their replacements panned out so far?
RJ: Basically this was a money move. The Earthquakes are still a year away from enjoying the increase in revenues that a new stadium should provide, so keeping two expensive players at positions that can usually be filled out with less expensive talent was a simple choice for general manager John Doyle. The Earthquakes brought in English veteran Jordan Stewart last summer, and he quickly supplanted a stagnant Morrow at left back. This season, the Quakes signed former Red Bulls defender Brandon Barklage and German fullback Andreas Gorlitz to fill the void left by departed free agent Beitashour. Even emergency starters Cordell Cato and Shaun Francis have done an admirable job in the stead of the former All-Star tandem. The money has been spent on a whole platoon of outside backs, and so far the Quakes have made good use of that depth.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revs fans should watch out for in this match.
RJ: Probably the biggest signing of the offseason for San Jose was French midfielder Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi. A native of Corsica, Pierazzi has been playing in France his entire career, many of those seasons in Ligue 1. He had always wanted to play in the United States, so when the Earthquakes had a chance to sign the talented 27-year old, they jumped at the chance. Pierazzi is a box-to-box central midfielder that complements the durable and reliable Sam Cronin in the center of the Quakes four-across midfield. Pierazzi was not brought in for his goal-scoring prowess, but instead will be tasked with linking play from the back to the wings and assisting the big guys in the box on set pieces.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
RJ: The Earthquakes attack is easy to predict, as Wondolowski and Lenhart will start up top, and Salinas and Atiba Harris will join Cronin and Pierazzi in the midfield. The back line is where it gets interesting, because other than center back tandem Bernardez and Clarence Goodson, the outside backs are still undetermined. Cato and Francis could start for the second straight week, or one of Gorlitz, Barklage, and Stewart -- all upgraded to "questionable" on the latest injury report -- could make the Starting XI and push Cato into midfield at the expense of Harris. Off the bench, Djalo will likely enter as a winger and Gordon as a forward.
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