In the past month, the Quakes have begun to stall. Both the defense and offense are regressing from the improvements that they have made this season.
Luchi and his team are a few weeks away from the end of the season and now must figure out how to fix this stall.
Since the restart of the MLS season, questions are rising week by week about the state of this squad. From a leaky backline to a lackluster midfield, the Quakes are regressing.
One of the best aspects of Luchi’s term has been his revival of the Quakes’ defense. For most of the season, the defense was quick to stop any attack and trackback. Now, the defenders are struggling to cover for the gaps left by the attackers.
Ebobisse and Espinoza started the season looking like the best duo in MLS, but now only Espinoza has been able to keep up that form. For the most part, the midfield has been primarily responsible for the lack of creativity. Luchi, for his part, has struggled to find the correct balance of the midfield and attack.
As the playoff race continues to heat up, the Quakes are in trouble of seeing a return to the post-season slip away. These issues have to be addressed if the team wishes to see the playoffs.
Even with Nathan out for the season, the backline started the season off well. Due to a variety of reasons, there have been issues as of late.
Rodrigues is one of the best defenders in MLS, as he has become the leader of this team’s backline. He has shown an incredible ability to cut off attacks or track back and cover up space for his teammates. If he had a more consistent partner, perhaps the defensive issues could be better addressed.
Over the course of the season, Rodrigues has really had two defensive partners, Beason and Mensah. Beason has been the better partner by fair, matching well as the left-footed center back and bringing stability. Mensah has struggled more and more as the season has gone along, with Luchi still choosing to play him in key matches.
Another issue has been the lack of tracking back by the majority of the team when they press up. In the past few games, the good chances produced by the opponents have come off counters when the Quakes are caught out. Gruezo is the only player outside the center backs to be ready for any sort of counter.
It’s in these spaces where the Quakes are torn apart. Akapo and Trauco can’t make up for the vacated spaces behind them as they move closer to the midfield when the Quakes attack. The team desperately needs the midfielders to occupy the spaces they leave.
While the defense has seen a concerning regression, it’s one that could be more easily fixed. Greater attention needs to be paid to just shoring up these defensive issues as the playoffs get closer.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this slide for Quakes’ fans has been the stalling of the attack.
There is a lack of creativity and lethality that has seen chance after chance go wasted.
A big part of the Quakes’ struggles this past month has come down to Ebobisse failing to find the back of the net. Last season’s clinical touch has somewhat deserted him as he continues to leave chances wanting. At the same time, only Espinoza and Monteiro have been able to help Ebobisse get a chance.
Cade Cowell seems to be on the verge of a move to Europe despite a lackluster MLS season. Outside his first goal over the past weekend, he has failed to find an impact on the wing. There has been no real growth in terms of his playmaking, which does hold the team back.
Both fullbacks have also cooled down in their impact on the attack. Akapo still has an excellent relationship with Espinoza, but Trauco continues to fade during games. In fact, Marie has been much more impactful coming off the bench for Trauco.
Gruezo has helped Yueill move further up the pitch and be effective, but Luchi doesn’t seem to know how to use Monteiro with him. Starting the season as a number 8, Monteiro was effective and flowed well in the team’s setup, but this move to the 10 is hurting him. Clearly, he doesn’t have the impact playing behind a striker and works better when he can get wide.
If the Quakes are able to find a way to kickstart this offense, they should be fine. Luchi needs to tinker with this lineup and find a way to get everyone going.
For how great this season has been for the Quakes, a collapse at the last stretch would undo a lot of the good work. With both the backline and offense stalling, Luchi will have to do his best coaching of the season to direct them to safety.
The season doesn’t get much easier, and a strong finish is needed.
Photo: San Jose Earthquakes