The Quakes play Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday. To prepare for this match, thebluehell.com and quakesfan.com teamed up to ask each other three questions about our respective teams.
If you’re not familiar, thebluehell.com is a fansite devoted to Sporting KC. You can read thebluehell.com’s responses to our questions here. You can also follow Chad, the site’s senior editor, on twitter @thebluehellblog.
Here are the questions thebluehell.com had for me, and my responses:
- San Jose and Kansas City came into the league together for the inaugural MLS season and have both seen their share of success (2 MLS Cups each). This year, the teams seem to be on very different paths. What is leading to San Jose’s struggles . . .
Dan: The biggest change came in 2004 when Alexi Lalas was hired as General Manager. Lalas traded away the rights to Landon Donovan–who was instrumental in our two MLS Cups in 2001 and 2003–while Donovan played in Germany. Lalas also oversaw the team’s relocation to Houston in 2006, a team which went on to win two more MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007. San Jose was granted an expansion in 2008, but it was under new ownership (Lew Wolff, owner of the Oakland Athletics) and new management (John Doyle as the General Manager) which has not been able to rekindle the magic of the original team; the new team has only made the playoffs twice (2010 and 2012). We did have a magical 2012 in which we won the Supporters’ Shield, but a majority of those players are no longer with the team for various reasons, including Alan Gordon, Justin Morrow, Stephen Beitashour, Sam Cronin, Simon Dawkins, and a guy with whom you are probably familiar, Ike Opara.
Many Quakes fans, including this one, point to GM John Doyle as the culprit for our recent form. The club has a poor overall record with Doyle as a GM, including just two playoff appearances, three last-place finishes (2008, 2009, and 2014), a string of poor signings, and an inability to keep quality players. We’re flirting with last-place again this season, and if that happens, I would not be surprised to see Doyle fired and newly hired Technical Director and former player Chris Leitch take over as GM.
. . . and do you think they can make the playoffs?
Dan: Well, ANYTHING can happen, especially having seven of our last nine games at home, which is what the team and fans are hoping may be the catalyst for a late-season playoff run. But when you look at our current position (eighth place, 29 points), the caliber of opponents we have to play (Sporting KC twice, FC Dallas, two first place teams in the L.A. Galaxy and D.C. United, a rejuvenated Seattle Sounders team, and the Vancouver Whitecaps among others), and the fact that at this point we would probably be only to make the playoffs as the sixth seed, our chances are bleak.
Our injuries have also been problematic. We just lost starting left-back Jordan Stewart to injury, which does not help. DP Innocent has been out for most of the season due to knee surgery. Matias Perez Garcia has been playing at less than 100%. If DP Innocent returns soon (he resumed training with the team this week), DP Matias Perez Garcia is able to play a full 90, we can find a replacement for Jordan Stewart (which will probably be Cordell Cato), and we take care of business against lower-standing teams via wins and hopefully get points against stronger opponents, we *might* be able to make the playoffs. Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? No.
- The Earthquakes reacquired Quincy Amarikwa back in June from the Chicago Fire. How is he fitting in with the team and how is he performing so far?
Dan: We acquired Quincy through a trade for CB Ty Harden. He has already scored four goals in six games and cemented his spot in our starting XI as our #9 forward. These numbers would make any team happy, right?
But–and this is strictly my opinion–his arrival is a double-edged sword for the team. In April Head Coach Dom Kinnear moved Chris Wondolowski from the #9 position to a box-to-box midfielder who presses forward. Wondo seems to have struggled as a midfielder–one goal since June 7th–and our offense has struggled since the move. Before the move in April, the Quakes averaged 1.2 goals/game (Wondo had three in six games to begin the season). After the move, the Quakes are averaging 0.94 goals per game. With Amarikwa at the #9, the Quakes currently average 0.83 goals/game. So statistically, the Quakes are doing worse with Amarikwa at the #9 position than Wondo. Yet Amarikwa is scoring, so I doubt Kinnear will change the lineup, even if overall production is decreasing.
- Chris Wondolowski is the captain and unquestioned star of the Earthquakes. To those of us not deeply knowledgeable about the team, who else should we be aware of and why?
Dan: While Wondo is definitely the most recognized player on the team for his recent USMNT stint in the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Gold Cup, perhaps the team’s MVP this season is CB Clarence Goodson. Goodson is another USMNT veteran who had his campaign during the 2010 World Cup. He has two game-winning goals this season (one against the Galaxy, and one against Colorado), and has helped the Quakes to seven clean-sheets. Counting this past week, he has been on the MLS Team of the Week three separate times. He also is a veteran leader who has helped MLS rookie Fatai Alashe excel as the #6.
The Quakes also have several young players that may make names for themselves in the coming seasons. Fatai Alashe, whom I just mentioned, was on the U-23 squad that competed at the Toulon Tournament and will probably be on the 2016 Olympic squad. Tommy Thompson is our only current homegrown player who represented the U.S. in the 2015 U-20 World Cup. Marc Pelosi is another local product who was in Liverpool’s academy system, but due to a broken leg was released by Liverpool. Hopefully the future is bright with the development of these players in the next few years.
Here at the questions I asked thebluehell.com
1. This is the best SKC team I have seen to date; how does this squad compare to previous championship teams, especially 2013’s MLS Cup Champion team? Is this the best Kansas City team ever?
Chad: I always hesitate to call anything the best ever. I watch a lot of UFC and they hype every few cards like it’s the best ever, which comes across as annoying. The being said, this team is quite good. And team is the key word in that sentence. While Benny Feilhaber has been outstanding, and my pick for MVP thus far, it’s been a real team effort. This team has been decimated by injuries. Ike Opara went out early, as he did in 2014. At the time he was leading the team in goals from the center back position and was possibly the best CB in the league up to that point. Kevin Ellis stepped in for him, and although shaky at times, has performed well overall. Especially for a player who is an outside back, not a center back by trade.
Outside of that, both of our left backs, Seth Sinovic and Marcel de Jong have missed considerable time and have been filled in for by rookie Amadou Dia. Dia, much like Ellis, has faltered at times, but he’s done enough to get the job done. On the right side of the back line we started the season without Chance Myers, who was replaced by journeyman Jalil Anibaba. Anibaba who has more traditionally played CB, has performed admirably as well, but now he is injured. With Myers back, but not 100% healthy, another rookie, Saad Abdul-Salaam has been filling in.
On top of that, an inconsistently healthy Graham Zusi has missed a couple stretches of games and has been replaced by Jacob Petersen and yet another rookie, Connor Hallisey. Neither of them have looked fantastic, but they’ve somehow managed to keep playing well as a team. Zusi also missed a stretch representing the US National team in the Gold Cup. Now Roger Espinoza is out for at least 10 weeks with a broken bone in his foot and he has been replaced by Paulo Nagamura, the hero of Saturday’s comeback against Vancouver. And the icing on the cake, Dom Dwyer missed a few starts with an injury picked up when he was warming up for the match-up with Seattle.
So with all those injuries, it’s hard to say it’s the best ever, but the proof will be in the final results. Last year at this time Sporting was leading the Supporter’s Shield race and absolutely fell apart. In 2013 Sporting finished 1 point behind the New York Red Bulls and then went on to win the MLS Cup. I’d say if they can win two trophies, they are probably the best ever, even if they are a patchwork team.
2. Who is the unsung hero of the team? In other words, who may not have the best stats, but seems to be indispensable if out of the lineup? (My votes would be Zusi, Ellis or Mustivar)
Chad: I see the logic in picking Ellis or Zusi, but for different reasons. I touched on this above, but Ellis has played quite well out of position at center back, filling in for an injured Ike Opara. On top of that, he has several goals this season, including a game winning header against the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place earlier in the summer. But he has struggled at times with being out of position. I specifically remember Montreal’s Piatti making him look silly a few weeks ago. So while he has performed well, it helps that he has a world class center back in Matt Besler next to him.
As for Zusi, I think he comes across as indispensable when you see who replaces him when he’s injured or on international duty. I feel like I’m repeating myself, but Jacob Petersen and Connor Hallisey have played less than stellar when Zusi wasn’t available. That being said, when Zusi is around, I don’t feel like he’s putting up a designated player lever performance. Now I realize he makes somewhere around $600K when people like Sebastian Giovinco and Kaka are making $7M+, but I still think he leaves me wanting more.
Based on that, I do think the answer is Soni Mustivar. When I mentioned above that Sporting fell apart last year around this time, I think a lot of that had to do with the loss of Oriol “Uri” Rosell. Uri was sold to Sporting Lisbon in the summer and there was really no one on the roster capable of playing the holding midfielder position. That is why this year, Sporting brought in Servando Carrasco and Mustivar. Carrasco got the early starts but picked up a suspension he would never recover from. Mustivar played so well that SKC traded Carrasco to Orlando City for Amobi Okugo. Mustivar hasn’t been perfect, including the first 60+ minutes Saturday versus the Whitecaps, but he does the little things so well. He steps back and plays defense and does a good job intercepting the ball and resetting the attack. To add to that, he got a goal and an assist in the last two games. He almost has the fan base saying, “Uri who?”
3. Right now, Sporting Kansas City could win all three major championships. What would you say is the biggest obstacle to achieving this feat?
Chad: Let’s not talk about this Dan, you are going to jinx us. Actually, I’m not a superstitious person, so let’s discuss. What you are referring to is often called the Treble. It would consist of winning the MLS Cup, the Supporters Shield, and the US Open Cup all in the same season. Seattle actually did very well last year winning the USOC and the Supporter’s Shield, but MLS Cup, as always, eluded them. No team in MLS history has ever won all three, so it seems unlikely that it would happen, but not impossible.
Sporting currently lead the league in points per game, and though they are in 3rd in the West, they have several games in hand on the teams above them. They have already advanced to the US Open finals and will play Philadelphia on September 30th. Currently, the playoffs are far enough off that they haven’t clinched a spot, but the expanded playoffs allowing 12 of the 20 teams in, SKC seems a lock to get one of those spots.
As for what will stop this from happening, I hate to beat a dead horse, but it has to be injuries. Sporting is incredibly banged up as I’ve mentioned, and the schedule only gets worse. This game against San Jose is the 4th in 12 days, with the 5th in 15 days coming on Saturday against the Columbus Crew. All these minutes with an already depleted roster has to mean some losses will come, which would hurt our chances at a Supporters Shield. If Sporting can stay healthy though, it feels like the sky is the limit.
Photo Credit: NBC Sports