LAFC vs San Jose: Open Cup Preview
Win 4 games and the cup is ours.
After defeating Real Salt Lake on the road in the 4th round last week, LAFC advanced to the next stage and will host the San Jose Earthquakes in the Round of 16 of the 2019 U.S. Open Cup. The match will be played at Banc of California Stadium with kickoff scheduled for Thursday June 20th at 7:30pm. The Black & Gold are currently on a 9-game unbeaten streak, including three consecutive victories over the past three matches. In addition, LAFC have turned the Banc into a fortress as they are undefeated at home this season (7 wins, 1 draw) and in Open Cup history (3 wins, 0 losses).
Ever since the 5-0 rout at Avaya Stadium in March at the hands of LAFC, San Jose has transformed into a different team. The Earthquakes have only lost one of their last ten games (5 wins, 4 draws) and are currently on a 5-game unbeaten streak. Not only are the players starting to believe in head coach Matias Almeyda’s system, they have a different mindset that is turning into a winning attitude. Although LAFC have historically dominated the head-to-head matchups against San Jose, this game will not be a walk in the park.
Taking It Seriously
Matias Almeyda has been known to take domestic cup competitions seriously and the Open Cup is no exception. In three years with Chivas de Guadalajara from Liga MX, Almeyda led his team to the cup title on two occasions.
Coming off a suffered 4-3 win at home vs USL Championship side Sacramento Republic last week in San Jose, the Earthquakes have the opportunity to make a statement on the road and eliminate their state rivals from the tournament. Unfortunately for them, they will have to do it without three regular starters in defenders Nick Lima (USA) and Harold Cummings (Panama) as well as midfielder Anibal Godoy (Panama). All three are with their respective national teams in the Gold Cup and will not be available for Thursday’s match.
A mixture of questionable goalkeeping from Daniel Vega as of late and Almeyda’s preference of rotating keepers between cup and league play will have backup Andrew Tarbell probably start for the Quakes on Thursday night. 22-year old midfielder Jackson Yueill will return to the line-up after missing the game vs Sacramento due to a short training camp stint with the U.S. national team. Almeyda has spoken wonders of the smart and creative American midfielder as he expects him to eventually make a move to Europe in the near future.
Over the last five games, DP forward Chris Wondolowski has been in absolute amazing form, breaking records and winning accolades as well as helping his team win games in the process. Wondolowski was voted Player of the Month for May and broke the all-time MLS career scoring record (152 goals) after scoring four goals in one game against the Chicago Fire. The 36-year old veteran has scored eight goals over the past five matches and will look to keep things going vs LAFC. The other DP for San Jose is Vako, the Georgian midfielder who is coming off a determinant performance against Sacramento where he scored two goals after coming on as a substitute in the 55th minute. LAFC will need to be mindful of both as they can be very dangerous if given space.
Keep The Chemistry Going
Just when we thought that the international call-ups of goalkeeper Tyler Miller, defender Walker Zimmerman and midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye would alter the chemistry within the team, their substitutes efficiently covered for their teammate’s vs RSL last week. Backup goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega, defender Danilo Silva and midfielder Lee Nguyen all answered the call and responded with solid performances. Expect these three players to get the start again on Thursday as Miller, Zimmerman and Kaye will still be unavailable.
The depth of the Black & Gold is admirable this season, not only because of the quality of the players, but because head coach Bob Bradley has done an excellent job in making them understand his system. This means that if a starter is out, the next man up knows exactly what he needs to do to execute the game plan on an individual and collective level.
LAFC club captain Carlos Vela has been on a scoring rampage as he has scored a goal in six consecutive matches. The Mexican has led his team to score 10 goals in the past three games and now has Rodolfo Zelaya as another option in attack to connect with. The Salvadorian made his LAFC debut last week in Utah and left a good impression on the Black & Gold faithful. Fito will be hopeful to make his home debut in front of the 3252 in what will surely be roaring ovation if he enters the field.
The keys for LAFC to win this match will be to control the midfield, attack through the wings and contain Wondolowski. The midfield trio for the Black & Gold has been magnificent all season long regardless of who is playing. Eduard Atuesta’s excellent vision has converted into goals, especially for Carlos Vela, a favorite target of the Colombian’s. LAFC need to take advantage of their established midfield and keep possession of the ball, something that the Earthquakes have improved on. Nonetheless, it will be a battle.
Tristan Blackmon and Jordan Harvey will be crucial in determining whether they will be the ones stepping up to go forward and keep San Jose’s fullbacks occupied or vice-versa. Vela will look to use his experience against 19-year old Peruvian left-back Marcos Lopez on the right side, as the Mexican will be looking for overlapping runs from Blackmon as decoys to create space.
Eddie Segura will play alongside Danilo Silva for the second time this season and they will be tasked to deal with Wondolowski’s poaching ability to score goals. I don’t’ see either defender having major difficulties in keeping Wondo under wraps but there’s a reason why he is the all-time leading scorer in MLS.
I repeat, this will not be a walk in the park but if LAFC can play their style of football with precision and intensity, the goals will come. With the man-to-man marking that Almeyda has implemented at San Jose, an early goal in the match for LAFC will force the Earthquakes to open up and go forward, therefore altering their game plan. It will be an interesting match filled with entertainment and I expect the Banc to be rockin! See you all there!