Saturday saw the Quakes defend well, earning a draw against LAFC in LA. The result itself was positive, but the Quakes have now gone five games without a win.
While the warning signs may be flashing, there are reasons to believe improvements are coming.
A draw in LA against this LAFC team is never a bad result, especially with the chances the Quakes were creating. Fans are, rightfully, concerned with this draw’s addition to the poor run of form.
First and foremost, the Quakes are desperately missing both Cowell and Yueill. Both players are getting to play for their country, so it’s a great honor. Without a doubt, their return will boost Luchi and his game plan.
New additions would be nice, but Luchi will need to think of tinkering with his plans in this next stretch. This past game saw Luchi experiment a lot more with his lineup, sub-pattern, and overall game plan. Luchi has done so many great things with this side, but these next few months will demand a response from him.
The Quakes are entering the most important part of their season in the coming weeks. Given that they can’t afford to undo all the good that they have done this season, improvements have to come.
Any team would miss players the caliber of Cowell and Yueill, so getting them back will truly give this team a shot in the arm. Monteiro will hopefully be back from injury soon as well, meaning a good chunk of the team’s creative forces will rejoin the team in the near future.
Yueill’s late addition to the Gold Cup roster, and yellow card suspension, must have surely shaken up Luchi’s plan for Saturday. Without the midfielder, the team lacks a ball carrier that can get the ball to the more attacking players. Lacking Yueill, the midfield just becomes defensive-minded and looks to counterattack rather than build up play.
This does speak to a more significant issue with the roster building that the front office did over the past off-season. The team is overflowing with more defensive-minded midfielders, but only two to three players can contribute to the attack. Luchi’s recent use of Skahan and Thompson in the midfield has been a welcome change but underscores just how thin this roster is.
Monteiro has spent the last few weeks either injured or away with his national team. Tsakiris can give a good imitation of him, but he still is too raw for a starting role in MLS.
Cowell has been away from the team for what feels like forever; he has gone from one international tournament to the other. It’s been exhilarating for fans to watch the homegrown player show his potential to the world. International tournaments are the best way for Cowell to push for a larger move.
When he is gone, defenses are able to focus all their attention on Ebobisse and Espinoza, suffocating them. There is no player on the roster that can strike fear into the opponent’s backlines that can liberate the fellow forwards. Bouda could help, but he, too, is raw, and Kikanović is a solid vet who helps the team but isn’t a real threat.
Absences have really killed the Quakes as of late, which shows a flaw with this roster. Both Luchi and the front office have played their role in this issue.
If MLS award voters voted on the coach of the year today, Luchi would definitely receive a good share of votes. He has worked wonders with this roster, but these past few weeks show that he still has more learning to do.
With key players out, Luchi had to get creative against LAFC. Deciding to use a new formation for the first time this season was risky, but it paid off. Five at the back screamed defensive focus, and it did, as the Quakes were able to nullify a potent LAFC side.
The talent on this roster forces Luchi to move away from a 3-5-2 and towards a more traditional 4-3-3, which makes sense. However, he will have to be flexible in the coming month; certain matchups will demand tweaks. Perhaps against LAFC, Luchi may see this formation works the best, but against the likes of St. Louis FC, another formation is needed.
Like Almeyda, Luchi is more than willing to play around with the roles of certain players. Skahan is a great example of playing a utility player in different positions to see what happens. Same thing for Thompson, who has returned to the midfielder for the first time in years.
Even with the return of key players, he will have to get creative with the players at hand and must get better at his in-game tweaks. Certain players will need to have their roles changed; perhaps Baldisimo could get more time as Yueill’s backup, or Marie gets pushed higher up. Getting the most of his role players will be what will either make or break the club’s playoff push.
Luchi’s revolution has been incredibly positive for the club and its fans. Although he’s far from a finished product, he has to use this period of time to learn and push his team.
A winless streak of any length is sure to have fans scared, but reinforcements are on the way. Due to players coming back and potential changes from Luchi, the Quakes have it in them to turn this form around.
Despite their fine season thus far, it can all come unraveled in the next month.
Photo: San Jose Earthquakes