Watch for Passing
While most teams in MLS play hybrid zone- and man-marking schemes with varying degrees of tightness on defense, San Jose Head Coach Matias Almeyda is a firm believer in an aggressive man-marking scheme. It can lead to exciting soccer since virtually every pass that finds its man is followed in short order by a one-on-one battle. As Minnesota showed last year in a 3-0 win away and a 3-1 win at home, one of the ways to beat man-marking is with quick, aggressive and accurate passing. The ball moves quicker than a player and as soon as the ball is moving, the attacking players need to move into new spaces up the field to keep the attack from bogging down and getting turned over.
Centerbacks Pushing Up
Another vulnerability of man-marking is a simple numbers game. San Jose’s favored formation is a 4-3-3, which means that defensively, their wingers are matched up with the opposing fullbacks while the center forward is left to deal with both opposing centerbacks. Overall, this isn’t a bad trade since on the other end of the field, it allows the Quakes’ centerbacks the ability to step out and double down on threats. But if centerbacks Michael Boxall and Ike Opara are willing to step up and push forward, it can unbalance the man-marking scheme. If no defender steps to them, they can often get an open lane all the way into the opposing box.
Hitting on the Counter
Both San Jose fullbacks — Nick Lima and Tommy Thompson — push into the attack and the late goal last week that earned the Quakes a draw and a point came on a free kick by centerback Oswaldo Alanis. Because they force the issue all over the field, San Jose’s defenders can find themselves high up the field as they seek to win the ball back, but it also means they can get pulled around by an attack that is disciplined and opportunistic. Minnesota’s wingers — and Ethan Finlay in particular — took advantage of Portland last week by stretching the defense and finding space in behind to run.