By Sean Steffen (@seansteffen)
With a cross to through ball ratio of 17-1 in a league where few teams break 5-1, San Jose in 2015 continued their storied tradition of raising their middle finger to modern soccer and losing on their own boring and regressive terms. Tackle, tackle, cross, cross, etc. The reason for this style runs to the core of San Jose's identity as a blue collar club that doesn't seem to put value on creativity or play making. One the most fan maligned players on that club, for instance, is Matias Perez Garcia. Boo! Hiss! Look how terrible this dude is.
|Key Pass per 90mins Leaders||Minutes||Key Passes per 90|
|Matias Perez Garcia||2032||3.5|
Garcia is one of the few bright spots on a team seemingly build for blandness, but, in all likelihood, he’s will see a lot of the bench this season in favor of defensive midfielder Fatai Alashe and box to box players like Marc Pelosi and Anibal Godoy. While all three of these players are solid, with Pelosi in particular showing a lot of promise, they simply do not create the same number of chances per game as Garcia. That will hurt the Quakes as they become even more reliant on crosses in the absence of wingers who possess the ability to cut inside and create.
While it’s possible this can be alleviated a bit by the addition of Simon Dawkins if they play him on the wing, this is a major if, and not something the team should feel comfortable banking on to the point to justify sending Garcia to the bench. It’s also not clear that Dawkins was brought in to fill such a midfield role, as he just as easily could have been brought in to play underneath Chris Wondolowski in a 4-4-1-1
Given all this, expect San Jose to change very little in the way they do things. They will continue to put up an astronomically high cross to through ball ratio, despite having very average conversion on these chances. Unfortunately for them it will be unlike Columbus last year and San Jose in 2012, where the target options made such a strategy viable. The Quakes should continue to convert about one out of every 10 shots they create via a cross, which puts their team almost exactly where they left it last year—creating about 1.16 expected goals per 90 while giving up 1.11xG per 90, putting them at an xG differential close to 0, leaving their results subject to whims of luck which even out just below the playoff line.
The one bright spot for the Quakes is Wondolowski, who continues to be the top performing American striker of his generation. World Cup miss aside, Wondo has had a pretty incredible career and has managed an impressive 0.5 xG per 90 rate from 2011-2015, with an average unassisted shot percentage of 23%, which should dispel any notion that Wondo is a service dependant striker.
No American striker in the last 20 years has had the goal scoring sense of Chris Wondolowski and savvy fans continue to marvel at his movement and the intelligence of his runs. His link up play is also to be admired as he has a history of making very average forwards who line up beside him look good.
While Wondo breaking the 10 goal mark is pretty much a given as long as he stays healthy, for San Jose to succeed this year they will most likely need Wondo to break the 15 goal mark. With their chance creation being so stagnant and one dimensional, this will be a big ask of him.
In summation, San Jose has a lot of good pieces. Wondolowski continues to be utter bae. Pelosi’s blend of circulating prowess and defensive work rate suggests the youngster could be the next Dax McCarty. Tommy Thompson still exists and has the creative skills to diversify the attack if he can only take that next step and become a consistent starter in this league. And then there is the much maligned Matias Perez Garcia who very quietly puts up Javier Morales and Diego Valeri like numbers, whether fans or front office realize it or not. San Jose has all the pieces to fix itself. All that’s missing is willingness to realize the current “blue collar” playing style they seem to embrace so much, is, in actuality, suffocating them.
And here is where I ultimately come down on the side that things will not be fixed in San Jose. I see no evidence of such an organizational self-awakening happening. San Jose likes their current identity, and, until that changes this team will continue to be nothing to write home about.