Wednesday Lunch: San Jose vs. Columbus Recap

Posted: May 25, 2011 in mls, soccer, sports
Tags: , , , , , ,

 

By Kyle Mohr

San Jose:

 

Lenhart       Wondolowski

 

Johnson     Ring     Stephenson      Gjertsen

 

Convey      McDonald    Hernandez      Leitch

 

Busch

Columbus: 

 

Renteria

 

Rogers           Duka         Gaven

 

Burns          Rusmir

 

Balchan      Marshall       James       Miranda

 

Hesmer

Review of San Jose vs. Columbus:

Coming off only one point in their last four games and no home victories in the current MLS season, the San Jose Earthquakes were in desperate need of a lift Saturday night. Their opponents, the Columbus Crew, had one MLS loss on the season, which came in the opening game against DC United. During the following unbeaten streak, the Crew managed to keep clean sheets for four straight consecutive games. So what went wrong for the Crew and right for the Earthquakes? Let’s examine:

 

*DISCLAIMER* Although this is a review of the game, it is almost entirely about the Earthquakes. This is mainly because they were the more interesting team and were able to create more and play a more organized defense than the Crew. I have nothing against the Crew, but this was a relatively one-sided game.

 

Although the San Jose defense played decently during their midweek game in Vancouver, the defense that lined up against the Crew consisted entirely of players who did not start that game. Team Captain Ramiro Corrales was left on the bench and Bobby Convey moved into the left back spot. This defensive grouping worked though, as the Crew struggled to create threatening attacks, were left with a number of half chances, and never had many clear-cut opportunities to score.

 

The Earthquakes’ defensive success came in part from the lack of offense created by the Crew. Much like the Earthquakes, the Crew played with only one true forward in Emilio Renteria and hoped to provide him adequate support from the midfield trio of Rogers, Duka, and Gaven. Unfortunately, Renteria did not receive much help from the midfielders who often seemed to be too far behind him to provide options going forward. The San Jose backline did a good job of breaking up most of the Crew ground attacks and defended the aerial game well.

 

The most important realization from this game is just how vital Steven Lenhart is for San Jose. After a rough open to the season, which for various reasons saw Lenhart missing from the lineup, his role is becoming more defined and he is making his presence felt. Lenhart is the type of player that the Quakes have needed all season long. Before Lenhart, the Quakes were often playing Scott Sealy or Ryan Johnson up top and neither one has the ability to play the position like Lenhart. Lenhart has the physical size and strength to win balls and provide an outlet for the midfielders. The Lenhart–Wondo combination will be interesting to watch as the season progresses. I counted seven clear attempts by Lenhart to play the ball out of the air directly to Wondolowski, three of which lead to legitimate chances that could have been converted into goals. I am interested to see if this combination has had an influence on Bob Bradley’s inclusion of Wondolowski on the Gold Cup roster. Jozy Altidore can play a similar role as Lenhart and would provide a forward for Wondolowski to run off. Look at this goal; the second one against Slovenia. Donovan knocks a ball from the midfield up to Jozy, who knocks it down right into the path of Michael Bradley, who is arriving late from the midfield. Bob Bradley may be hoping Altidore and Wondolowski can combine like that during the upcoming tournament.

 

Lenhart is also a player who will constantly be keeping defenses busy, allowing his teammates opportunity to find open spaces, as evident on the first San Jose goal. Lenhart makes a run to the near post, dragging both Chad Marshall and Julius James with him. This allows Wondolowski to make a run to the far post into the space opened up by Lenhart. Wondo’s run came from the far wing and then he cut inside towards the post. Columbus left back Rich Balchan did not track Wondolowski, probably assuming that Julius James would be covering the area in the middle. Lenhart’s ability to draw both center backs to him is what allowed Wondolowski to get that goal. What is also notable on this goal is the space given to both Brad Ring and Johnson during the buildup. Both of these players had very good games, but I will get to that later.

 

Second Goal: This was a great diagonal run by Lenhart, who showed his speed to get free from his marker, Balchan. Joey Gjertsen sent in a good delivery that Lenhart expertly directed off Brandon McDonalds’ ass and into the net. There is not a whole lot else to say about this one, although it continues a trend by Gjertsen of sending in solid deliveries from set pieces.

 

The third goal was mainly just a great individual shot by Khari Stephenson. Bobby Convey made a run from his left back position and played a ball back into the middle for Lenhart. The buildup on this play was nice as well, and again highlights the good work between Johnson and Convey on the left. Johnson had tucked into the center of the field to receive the ball and then played a ball to an overlapping Convey, who exploited the space left open by Johnson’s absence from his normal position on the left. Convey had plenty of space and time to play a ball to Lenhart was likely fouled while trying to control the pass. Whether an intentional dummy or not, the ball went right past Lenhart to Stephenson who wasted no time in lining up his shot. Much like the goal against Seattle, Stephenson found himself with some space outside of the box and lined up his shot expertly. A great individual play by Stephenson, but once again, the Quakes midfield had plenty of time to distribute the ball ahead.

 

Gjertsen and Brad Ring both had very solid games and will have bolstered their claims for minutes in the congested San Jose midfield. Gjertsen was good on set piece deliveries and played the corner that Lenhart scored on. Brad Ring did a good job pairing with Stephenson and distributed well. He played the ball wide to Johnson on the first San Jose goal.

 

Ryan Johnson was a key difference maker in this game. He provided width in the midfield, which in turn created more space in for Ring and Stephenson to work. Johnson worked well with Convey to cover the wing when Convey went forward and served several great crosses into the box.

 

A few notes on the Crew:

The Crew need to find a way to make their attack more dynamic. Coming into this game, they had an average of one goal per game, definitely not bad, but it puts a lot of pressure on the defense to win. In addition to this, four of their eight goals have been penalties. The Crew need to figure out a way to score more often, because their usually stellar defense cannot be expected to keep clean sheets every game (although they have proved this season that they are very capable of doing just that).

 

I’m not really sure what happened to the Crew defense in this game. They have been very solid so far this season. I think the Crew just lost the midfield battle and Lenhart really made a difference. The result is perhaps more an indication of the Crew’s offensive struggles and inability to hold the ball up, than a weak defense.

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