All season long, San Jose Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop has defended his team’s defense-first stance as the tactic most likely to get results from the mix of talents and skills at his disposal.
With the impending addition of Brazilian playmaker Geovanni – and the acquisition of Jamaican midfielder Khari Stephenson earlier this month – that finally may be changing.
“We’ve never had this quality of player before,” Yallop said of Geovanni, San Jose’s first designated player. “Now, we have the players to play an attacking style.”
That kind of pronouncement leaves Quakes fans salivating – and wondering exactly where the former Benfica star will fit into San Jose’s lineup when he makes his debut. Geovanni is available to play on Saturday against the Galaxy, but it's unclear how he'll be used, if at all, so quickly after joining the club.
Yallop said this week that he planned on using Geovanni primarily as an attacking midfielder or a second striker. Putting him on the wing would leave him too potentially isolated, since Yallop wants him to be as involved as possible with the offense.
“To have a real top-notch European player, at 30 years old, is a treat for our players and our fans,” Yallop said. “He’s a bit like [Columbus star Guillermo Barros] Schelotto. He finds the ball in little pockets and slides it in to other players.”
Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch drew another DP comparison, invoking his former teammate in Chicago.
“You can tell [Geovanni] is very soccer savvy,” Busch said. “He’s got a soccer brain. He’s very creative. He’s kind of like [former Fire star Cuauhtemoc] Blanco. He wants the ball and maybe sees things that others don’t see.”
[inline_node:313511]If Geovanni had been signed before Stephenson, there would have been a natural void for him to fill, left by countryman Andre Luiz’s season-ending knee surgery. The Quakes have been using a diamond midfield in a flat-back 4-4-2 for much of the season, with Brandon McDonald and, later, Sam Cronin as a holding mid.
Luiz was the point of that diamond, so when he went down in June, it punched a hole in the middle of Yallop’s plans; Cronin, Bobby Convey and Chris Wondolowski all took an unsucessful turn in that spot.
Stephenson, however, did a great job in that role during his Quakes debut last week, delivering perfectly weighted passes all over the pitch, including the assist on Wondolowski’s game-winning goal. That makes it more difficult to simply bench Stephenson and swap him out for Geovanni.
One thing that definitely won’t happen is a pairing of Geovanni and Stephenson as center midfelders in a 4-4-2. With both players being so attack-minded, Yallop feels it would leave the defense too vulnerable.
All this leaves Yallop with two likely configurations. The first is a 4-4-1-1, with Geovanni floating underneath a front-running target forward. This allows Geovanni the most room to create, but has the downside of putting Wondolowski – the Quakes’ best forward this season – in a target role where he hasn’t historically thrived.
The other option is to go back to the 4-1-4-1 the Quakes used in Colorado two weeks ago. Yallop employed that formation to combat the Rapids’ influx of players in the middle of the park, and it worked to some extent, giving San Jose more possession. But with Wondolowski and Arturo Alvarez in the center of the midfield quartet, the offense didn’t generate many legitimate scoring chances. With Stephenson and Geovanni in those roles, the outcome would presumably be different.
Whatever decision Yallop eventually makes, he expects it to make a difference all over the field, not just in the positions played by Geovanni and Stephenson.
“I can give license to Arturo, Joe [Gjertsen] and Bobby to be unpredictable,” Yallop said. “Khari popped up in spots [against Kansas City] where they weren’t expecting him. We weren’t static. We weren’t boring. We were inventive.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes