After a 4-0 thrashing of the Vancouver Whitecaps last Saturday, the Columbus Crew hits the road for the team’s first away match in 2022 to face the San Jose Earthquakes. There has been a lot of talk from head coach Caleb Porter about improving the Crew’s road record in 2022, given the team has won only seven away matches since 2018, including no away wins in 2020.
Thus, the Black & Gold will look to get off to a good start on the road in their first opportunity this year. The Quakes present a great opportunity to do so, as they appear to be in limbo on and off the field with several questions surrounding the club early on in 2022. In addition, San Jose lost more matches (7) at home than the team won last year (5).
Here’s a look at what to expect from the ‘Quakes and how the Crew can build on their great start last weekend.
San Jose Earthquakes at a Glance:
Record: 0-1-0 (0 Points)
Leading Scorer: Javier “Chofis” Lopez (1)
Assist Leader: Christian Espinoza (1)
Player to Watch: Jamiro Monteiro
Crew fans will be very familiar with Monteiro thanks to his two-year stint with Eastern Conference rivals, the Philadelphia Union, from 2020-22. This offseason, Monteiro was transferred to San Jose in exchange for $250k in General Allocation Money. The 28-year-old Cape Verde international will feature in a more prominent role for the Quakes in 2022 and was among the most lively players for San Jose in last week’s match.
Known for his skill on the ball in tight spaces and his speed, Monteiro fits well into the Earthquakes’ attacking plan. Last week, Monteiro played as a left-sided central attacking midfielder last year in a 3-4-3 formation. This spot allows him to get into positions to ask questions of his opponents outside and center backs, as well as central midfielders.
Despite not getting on the stat sheet in Week 1, Monteiro will likely pose a threat all year long for the Quakes. The Crew will need to be well organized in order to keep Monteiro at bay on Saturday.
How San Jose plays:
San Jose manager Matias Almeyda has made a name for himself in MLS thanks to his incredibly unique playing style. The Argentine is a disciple of countryman Marcelo Bielsa and sets his team up to play in a remarkably similar way to the recently fired Leeds United boss. With the Quakes, Almeyda employs a high-energy, man-to-man defensive system to try and frustrate his opponents. Generally speaking, his players are responsible for a specific opponent for the majority of the match.
While this matchup is generally based on positional matchups, it is not uncommon to see Earthquakes players being pulled around the field into unorthodox defensive positions thanks to this technique. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but the concept remains one of the most strikingly different and intense systems of play in the league.
Last week against the New York Red Bulls, San Jose appeared to be waiting for certain cues to apply intense pressure. This is likely due to the direct nature of RBNY and was an attempt to maintain players in good positions to win first and second balls after a New York long ball.
This week against the Crew, expect the Quakes to apply pressure much higher up the pitch in an attempt to win the ball back close to the attacking goal as well as disrupt Columbus’ rhythm in possession. When San Jose does win the ball back, look for them to try and play forward as quickly as possible in an attempt to get behind the Crew backline line. The Earthquakes often try to do this through an “up, back, through” pattern of play. This pattern references a pass up the field to an attacking player, who lays the ball back to a teammate in support before a through ball is played to another attacker running in behind the backline. While a relatively simple concept, when executed it can be very dangerous. The Crew backline will need to be well aware of this pattern and will need help from their midfielders and attackers to prevent the original ball up the field as much as possible on Saturday.
How the Crew can win:
The Black & Gold have a good opportunity to get off to a good start on the road as well as attempt to stay atop the Eastern Conference with this matchup. While certainly not an easy match, the Crew will feel good about the team’s chances heading into this match and should be looking to capitalize on some of the uncertainty and chaos surrounding the Earthquakes early on in the season. Despite the uniqueness of Almeyda’s style, Porter referenced some of the similarities between last week’s opponent in Vancouver and San Jose this week.
Due to the man-to-man nature of Almeyda’s style, there is a huge importance on individual ability when playing the Quakes. Thus, players who are incredibly gifted on the ball like Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe and Alexandru Matan can be incredibly useful against San Jose. These players (and all Crew attackers) can use their ability on the ball to beat their individual marker and cause disorganization in the Earthquakes defense by asking other players to leave their mark to stop them with the ball.
Columbus can also use some of the team’s more physically gifted players to cause chaos against San Jose. Players with incredible speed like newcomer Yaw Yeboah or Luis Diaz can burst past their markers to get behind the backline. Gyasi Zardes and Miguel Berry can use their combination of size and strength to get past their defender and finish chances unmarked in the box as well.
The bottom line is that every Crew attacker needs to be ready, willing and able to try and beat their marker in a 1 v. 1 matchup. This is especially important for this match as the Earthquakes defending unit will likely be missing key players in defense for this matchup.
In addition to the importance of the Crew attacker being able to beat their individual mark, there is also a tactical area where the Black & Gold can look to exploit the Earthquakes Last week, Columbus was able to routinely get in behind the Whitecaps’ backline thanks to their ability and willingness to switch the point of attack once they got into the attacking third, specifically with their wingers. The Crew was often able to play the ball to either Derrick Etienne Jr. or Yeboah’s feet with their backs to goal.
When this occurred, both Yeboah and Etienne immediately looked to switch the point of attack to the other side. This led to Etienne’s goal in the first half as well as a Yeboah chance that was nearly converted just before. This was incredibly effective as it exploited the Vancouver three-man backline. By playing to a winger’s feet, it draws up one of the three main defenders. When this happens, the other two defenders slide over to cover behind the stepping defender. Thus, there is open space on the opposite side of the field.
Lastly, the Crew will need to organize quickly when the team does lose the ball. This is a common theme for the Black & Gold and one that will be referenced all year long. Thanks to the Black & Gold’s possession style, they have defenders out of possession in the first few seconds after losing the ball back. Teams like the Earthquakes, who look to attack quickly and directly after winning the ball, will look at this as a potential weakness for Columbus.
In order to keep San Jose at bay, the Crew backline will need to quickly regain its defensive shape after losing the ball. In addition, the Black & Gold attackers surrounding the ball will need to quickly counter press the ball and apply pressure that prohibits the Quakes from playing forward quickly.
If Columbus is able to do these two things well, the Black & Gold will force the Earthquakes to beat them by creating chances while in extended possession of the ball, which is something they are not very good at. Look for the Black & Gold to have an extra emphasis on this part of the game this week in order to be successful.