San Jose

San Jose reportedly about to bring in its own South American playmaker

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Javier Morales is the ideal, but with the Argentine’s success at Real Salt Lake has come a series of South American playmakers: Federico Higuaín with Columbus; Felipe Martins in Montréal; the Timbers’ Diego Valeri; even younger versions, like FC Dallas’s Mauro Díaz. And those are just the ones who’ve worked out. Though the league’s tradition of relying on South American maestros dates back to Carlos Valderrama, recent expansion and the league’s economic health has led a series of CONMEBOL’s talents to look for new CONCACAF options.

The next player to join that list appears to be Argentine Matías Pérez García; at least, if reports from ESPN Deportes pan out. According to last night’s report, the 30-year-old midfielder is “virtually” set to make a move to San Jose, ending two seasons with Tigre of the Argentine Primera Division.

One Deportes source claims the deal involves two million dollar, though it was unclear whether that was a transfer fee or the player’s compensation. Given the salaries for the likes of Morales and Valeri ($300,000, $500,000), the quoted amount is likely going to Tigre, who become the latest club to benefit from MLS’s continued mining of Argentine talent.

From this distance, it’s unclear whether the player justifies the expenditure. Since moving to Tigre in the summer of 2012, Pérez García’s scored 13 times in 63 league appearances, playing primary behind a single striker. Though he’s been Tigre’s leading scorer during that time, he’s also 30 and has never had success beyond Argentina (in France or Chile).

In that way, he profiles like Valeri, with the two sharing a connection to Lanus. But when Valeri moved to Portland, he was 26 years old, and while his transfer fee was  over $2 million (reportedly, closer to $3 million), the nature of his move meant the Timbers had a chance to test the fit before MLS paid the full fee.

Though you never want to accept one web site’s word as gospel, there seems to be reasons why Transfermarkt’s evaluation isn’t close to $2 million. Perhaps the actual fee will turn out to me lower, but if Deportes’ source is correct, Major League Soccer appears to be over-paying.

And that’s the other part of this transaction to consider. Whatever the fee ends up being, it’s likely coming from the league’s collective coffers. From a San Jose fan’s point of view, that makes the price a lot more tolerable. For an MLS fan, though, is a 30-year-old playmaker the best use of the league’s transfer budget?

This is part of the problem with paying for teams’ transfer fees. If Pérez García becomes available and Earthquakes general manager John Doyle wants him, how can Major League Soccer say “no” after paying fees for players like Valeri and Matías Laba (not to mention higher price points like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley)? Unless the request is egregious, a precedent has been set. Why can’t San Jose be part of the club?

All of which gets us pretty far away from the field. For a San Jose team that’s found itself at the bottom of the Western Conference, there are more pressing issues; specifically, can García turn help Mark Watson turn this around? While the odds are stacked against making the playoffs this season, the team needs to build for next year, when it will be opening its new venue. By then, the Earthquakes need to have moved away from the blunt style which, at one time successful, has proved a hinderance over the last year-and-a-half. When they’re winning, it’s fine, but we San Jose’s results fall off, the team’s approach makes it difficult to justify the product.

With a player like Yannick Djaló, San Jose’s moving in a different direction, but even when healthy, the Portuguese attacker hasn’t been a game-changer. García, whether it’s by position or price, will be expected to serve that purpose. If he’s not a game-changer, he a least needs to be a style-changer.

That’s assuming the move happens, of course. Right now, it’s just a rumor – a very detailed, consistent, sensible rumor, one which hints a San Jose is moving in a different direction. The team that’s been forced to live a modest existence may be ready to add some extravagance to its roster.

MLS Snapshot: Zardes, LA defense lead Galaxy to 1-0 win over San Jose (VIDEO)

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One game, 100 words (or less):  In front of 50,006 at Stanford Stadium, San Jose’s attempts to leverage Steven Lenhart fail to pay off, with a series of chances in the air against an Omar Gonzalez-less defense allowing the Galaxy’s single goal to stand up. Finishing into the top of Jon Busch’s net in the 62nd minute, Gyasi Zardes delivered full points for the Earthquakes’ visiting rivals, giving LA a 1-0, California Cup victory in Palo Alto.

Three moments that mattered:

1. 32′ – “Ball-to-hand” –  Though San Jose had come close through Lenhart multiple times, LA exerted its typical control on the game, an advantage that nearly paid off just past the half-hour mark. On a shot from Zardes from the left of the area, a deflected ball find Brandon Barklage’s right hand just outside the six-yard box, though Baldomero Toledo refrains from blowing the whistle. While replays showed Barklage’s arm away from his body, Toledo sees with ball-to-hand as the game goes on.

source: Getty Images
Gyasi Zardes, pictured here in a game against the Philadelphia Union, scored in the second half in Palo Alto, Calif., on Saturday, helping the LA Galaxy to a 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes (Photo: Getty Images)

2. 62′ – Gyasi takes no chances – It took half an hour, but Zardes got his revenge, converting on a beautiful play by the Galaxy to give the visitors the lead. With Robbie Keane having floated high to the left flank, Marcelo Sarvas burst out of midfield to serve as the target for his cross, eventually chesting the ball down for an oncoming Zardes. Finishing into the top of Busch’s net, the second-year attacker gave San Jose’s keeper no chance to keep the game level. Just past the hour, it was 1-0, LA.

3. 88′ – Tonight, it was good Jaime – Though Lenhart had been active of the game’s first half-hour, Los Angeles had managed to keep him quiet for the rest of the night. Perhaps that was possession limiting San Jose’s set piece chances. Maybe it was the defense adjusting. Regardless, Lenhart didn’t bother Jaime Penedo against until just before the end of regulation time, when the San Jose attacker ran onto a set piece served into the middle of the penalty area. With one of his rare tries on target, Lenhart forced a sprawling save from the LA keeper, who pushed the shot over the bar to preserve the Galaxy win.

Three lessons going forward:

1. All of a sudden, LA has depth in defense? – Not only was Gonzalez gone, but Leonardo and A.J. DeLaGarza were held out. That meant Tommy Meyer and Kofi Opare started in the middle while Robbie Rogers played left back. Maybe we have to wait and see before assuming those will prove good options (we already know a lot about Meyer and Opare in the middle), but for one nice in the Bay Area, the back line was definitely good enough. A supposedly thin LA defense kept a clean sheet, albeit against a team that was missing Chris Wondolowski and Shea Salinas.

2. Tick-tock on San Jose’s playoff hopes – We’re not in must-win territory by any means, but in a highly competitive Western Conference, time may be running out for teams like San Jose and Portland to go on a run. With Seattle and Real Salt Lake like to stay at the top of the conference, LA’s underlying numbers hinting they’ll catch up, and Vancouver’s quality having coalesced under Carl Robinson, the Earthquakes and Timbers may be left waiting to see if the Rapids are for real. With both teams suffering home losses this weekend, the time is slowly ticking away.

3. Stanford games hint at San Jose’s potential – It was only appropriate that, on the night that San Jose’s notorious 1906 Ultras spoke out against the club, the Earthquakes were given another reminder of the potential of their market. The huge crowd in Palo Alto spoke to the ability to grow beyond the restricting confines of Buck Shaw Stadium, which San Jose will leave at the end of the year.

While it’s always difficult (and often, ill-advised) to speak out against loyal fans, San Jose has done great job of separating the organization’s future from the problems of the Ultras’ recent past. As Saturday showed, there are other people willing to fill the new stadium when it opens in 2015.

Where that leaves them:

  • San Jose, with 16 points in 14 games, stay eighth in the Western Conference, two points above Chivas USA.
  • LA pulls itself within two points of fifth place Vancouver while maintaining two games in hand on the Whitecaps.

Stalemate puts Galaxy into playoffs, San Jose on the brink of elimination (video)

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bX-NyPd3kDE]

Let’s talk about what we mean by “on the brink” in that headline.

I know we’re not supposed to talk about The Headline in this way (the internet’s equivalent of a fourth wall), but anybody familiar with the scenarios knows “on the brink” is a huge understatement. It gives the impression that the Earthquakes can still make the playoffs, and while that’s true, it will take a scenario so outlandish that police investigations into gambling influences will commence if San Jose’s playing beyond next Saturday …

Because here’s what needs to happen:

  • San Jose needs to beat Dallas at Buck Shaw, scoring at least 12 goals in the process.
  • If they only score 12 goals, Colorado will need to lose by at least seven in Vancouver without scoring a goal.
    • That would put San Jose and Colorado even on points, wins (first tiebreaker) and goals (second tiebreaker).
    • The playoff spot would then come down to goal difference, which would depend on how many goals San Jose allowed in their 12-X romp.
    • The next tiebreaker, discipline points, favors Colorado.
  • If, however, San Jose scores 13, they could pass Colorado on goals scored, provided Vancouver wins at BC Place. The Rapids will go into next weekend with 45. San Jose’s scored 32.

As you can see, San Jose — who entered the night four back of the fifth place Rapids — is done. If they’re “on the brink,” it’s only mathematically; not practically.

The Galaxy, however, are in. Their point leaves them with 52, though they could still finish anywhere from first to fifth in the conference.

Win next Sunday in Seattle, and they’ll pass whichever of Portland (first, 54 points) or Real Salt Lake (second, 53) fail to beat Chivas USA (both teams close their seasons with the Goats).

If LA draws in Seattle, the best they can do is third (unless RSL loses to Chivas and scores three fewer goals than Los Angeles next weekend). The Sounders won’t pass them, but Colorado can with a win in Vancouver. If that happens, Seattle and LA will fly to StubHub for an elimination leg of an unlikely home-and-home.

If LA loses in Seattle, they can finish no higher than fourth place, and if the Rapids knock off the Whitecaps, the defending champions are off to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park for the West’s winner-take-all playoff opener.

Highlights: San Jose within one point of Colorado after beating Rapids at Buck Shaw

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Thanks to Chris Wondolowski’s 10th goal of the year, San Jose’s within a sliver of a playoff spot, with the Earthquakes’ 1-0 victory Wednesday over visiting Colorado leaving them one point behind the fifth-place Rapids.

The goal came in the 69th minute, with the reigning Major League Soccer Most Valuable Player Chris Wondolowski taking advantage of young Shane O’Neill on a corner kick. On the Shea Salinas out-swinger, “Wondo” gave the young central defender a small shove, catching him off balance with the type of normally innocuous contact that’s standard procedure on corner kicks. That left the San Jose captain essentially unmarked from nine yards out, his header going into the right side-netting for the game’s only goal.

That game-winner made up for goals Wondolowski could have had in the 50th, 64th, and 69th minutes. Just after halftime, he found himself going in alone on goal after badly beating O’Neill off the dribble, but a poor finish into Clint Irwin’s feet left the score 0-0. On the next chance, Wondolowski got the ball past Irwin only to see a retreating Drew Moor save his shot off the line. Five minutes later, a header toward the top of goal off a restart from the right was palmed out for a corner – the corner Wondo buried for the winner.

Later, Clint Irwin swallowed an Alan Gordon header put on goal from a corner kick – another highlight of the Colorado’s keeper strong yet losing effort. Though the final score was 1-0, it would have been much worse without the play of the Rapids’ Man of the Match.

Ultimately, the mere fact Colorado lost was more important than how it happened. Now, only one point up on San Jose, they close the season with a home-and-home against a Vancouver team coming off a 4-1 thrashing of Seattle. Sweep that series, and Colorado’s in. Drop points, and they’ll need the Earthquakes’ help to stay in the top five. Drop too many points, and Vancouver (three points back) will pass the Rapids.

As for San Jose, they still need help to make the playoffs. Even if they sweep their final two games (at LA and home to Dallas) they could still find themselves on the outside looking in. If the Galaxy win Wednesday against Montréal or in their season finale at Seattle, the defending champions are assured of finishing ahead of the Earthquakes. If that happens while Colorado sweeps Vancouver, San Jose’s late charge will be for naught.

Well, almost for naught.  Even if San Jose doesn’t return to the postseason, we’re going to remember this run. We’re going to remember their poor start, all the early-season injuries they had to overcome, and how close they are to rendering all that adversity meaningless. LA, Colorado, or Vancouver may surge over the next two weeks, and San Jose may be left out in the cold, but after the run Matt Watson’s stoked his team to throughout the summer, nobody who’s followed the league will forget the end to the 2013 season …

Even if such memories will be no consolation to the players if they don’t return to the postseason.

MLS Preview: Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes

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  • Teams are fifth, sixth in the Western Conference.
  • San Jose has lost one home game all season.
  • Earthquakes without Chavez; Rapids without Brown, Torres.

‘Six-pointer’ is one of the worst expressions in soccer. All matches are six-pointers! They each carry a potential six-point swing in the standings.- the difference between Team A winning and Team B claiming full points. Whether you’re talking about a game in round one or the last match of the season, they’re all six-pointers.

But typically that monicker’s been reserved for games between teams competing for (or, trying to avoid) the same threshold. That’s why a match between teams trying to avoid the drop is a relegation six-pointer (almost exclusively how the term’s used).

Wednesday’s Major League Soccer schedule presents us with a six-pointer of a different kind. A late season surge sees the San Jose Earthquakes, last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners, in sixth place in the West – just outside a playoff position. Right on the other side of that line? The upstart Colorado Rapids, whose young core has been slowly augmented by veterans to give Oscar Pareja’s team an unexpected staying power.

Coming off a 5-1 win over Seattle, the Rapids may have shed that upstart label. After thrashing a recognized MLS Cup-contender, it no longer seems right to add any mitigating adjectives. Young Rapids, that’s fine? Athletic, dynamic, talented? Sure. Upstart has come to carry a slightly negative connotation, when we use it in sports. It’s almost as if we don’t believe it’s real.

Last year’s San Jose and this year’s Montréal weren’t/aren’t classified as upstarts (particularly because of the veteran makeup of their rosters). Instead, we discuss their potential impact on the postseason. Particularly after this weekend’s showing, don’t we owe Colorado the same respect?

First things first, Colorado need to get into the playoffs, which brings us back to the six-pointer concept. If Colorado loses at Buck Shaw (which nine out of 15 visitors have), they bring San Jose within one. But if they win? The pull seven points clear and could clinch, provided Vancouver drops points in Seattle.

If that happens, not only will Colorado become only the second team to claim full points from Santa Clara this season, they will send San Jose to the brink of elimination. One more Galaxy win, and the Earthquakes would be out.

It highlights the tightrope Matt Watson’s team is walking, though the fact that they haven’t already fallen to earth is a testament to both the new boss and his resilient squad. When Frank Yallop left the team early this season, it forced the players to internalize their poor start.

Though they’re unlikely to make the playoffs, the fact that San Jose is still in contention in October speaks to the professionalism of the group. Instead of playing for next year, the team decided to earn the paychecks they’re getting now.

And let’s not completely dismiss the possibility of them getting into the playoffs. If they win out, they get to 53 points, and they’re likely in. If they go 2-0-1, they hit 51 points and can get in if Vancouver takes some points from Colorado in those teams’ season-ending home-and-home. Watson’s already achieved something by keeping San Jose alive, but their chances to achieve greater things shouldn’t be so readily dismissed.

But if there’s a narrative to grab onto here, it’s Colorado’s. The team made an early commitment to their young core without any expectation of making this year’s playoffs. Set to allow the likes of Shane O’Neill, Deshorn Brown, and Dillon Powers room to grow beneath what looked like a jammed Western Conference playoff race, the Rapids were happy to rebuild, jettisoning Conor Casey and Jeff Larentowicz to do so. But with Clint Irwin’s emergence in goal and the ascension of Chris Klute to becoming the season’s best left back, the Rapids became as much about the present as the future.

That rise brings expectations. Coming off a 5-1 win over Seattle, a trip to San Jose suddenly looks winnable. With Marvin Chavez off with Honduras, Klute will have more cause to get forward down Colorado’s left. In the absence of Gaby Torres and Deshorn Brown, a Colorado attack featuring Edson Buddle, Vicente Sanchez, and Powers should find holes in a defense that’s missing Victor Bernardez and relying on a hobbled Clarence Goodson. Chris Wondolowski and Alan Gordon are available for San Jose, but Steven Lenhart is not, giving O’Neil and Drew Moor one less nuisance to worry about. If Colorado is a playoff-caliber team, they should find a way to get something from this match.

As much as the actual standings, that’s what Wednesday’s six-pointer is about: Identifying which of these two teams is truly playoff-worthy. Getting results under tough circumstances, taking advantage of the opportunities you’re presented, ending your opponents’ dreams – these are all tasks you endure in the postseason. San Jose and Colorado get a taste of it Wednesday night.