What to learn from San Jose

The USL incarnation of the Sounders is preparing for a friendly against the San Jose Earthquakes tomorrow, and many storylines are evident. It is the last road game until the playoffs, the first in 3 years against their former NASL brethren, and a compelling match against the hottest team in MLS.

Yes, expansion club San Jose is on fire right now, and in the wild Western Conference, they have as good a shot as anyone (except for the team in orange) to make the playoffs. Led by mid-season pickups of Arturo Alvarez and Darren Huckerby, the Quakes have gone unbeaten in their last 7 games. It's likely that neither of these two players will see the field in their match against the Sounders - which will be more interesting for the stories off the pitch than the action on it. But that doesn't change the fact that the Quakes have been doing something right recently. And if they can do it this year, so can Seattle next year.

The question, obviously, is what that is. During their current run of good form, the Quakes have been statistically most impressive on the defensive end, with just 6 goals given up in the last 10 games. But none of the changes San Jose has made recently have been on defense! They're basically sticking with the same back 4, led by Nick Garcia. So let's look to the keeper, the reliable Joe Cannon. He has performed admirably this year, with just a 1.18 Goals Against Average (3rd best in MLS) and with 8 shutouts (2nd best). But over his last 9 games (he didn't play in 1 of the last 10) he's been nothing short of amazing. He's faced 40 shots on frame, and has allowed but 6 goals. Over this stretch, 85% of the time when a shot is put on the Earthquakes goal, Joe Cannon has been on hand to keep it out.

In a fiercely competitive league, having a consistent (Cannon's played in every MLS match) and quality (1.18 GAA!) keeper can make the difference between being in the playoffs or watching them from the couch. The Sounders have theirs for next year in Kasey Keller, and they hopefully have theirs for the future in Chris Eylander, whose cat-quick reflexes are reminiscent of a certain MLS goalie. Eylander will hope to come from the USL into MLS as a backup before getting his chance at starting a couple years later... just like Cannon did.

If the Sounders FC wish to succeed in MLS, they will need a quality man between the pipes. Although Eylander has all the tools to be great, that often doesn't translate into MLS success (see Wells, Zach and Cronin, Steve). Tomorrow night, in an otherwise meaningless game for both sides, Chris Eylander will face off against the goalie he should aspire to be, and that Sounders fans hope he can become.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

turns out cannon didnt actually play...