On Monday, July 27, the San Jose Earthquakes will take on Real Salt Lake in the MLS is Back Tournament Round of 16. Let’s take a quick peek at how these two teams got to this point and what to expect come Monday.
The Quakes have been one of the talks of the tournament thus far, winning Group B with an undefeated 2-0-1 record, all of which counted towards the regular season standings. San Jose was one of just five teams to finish with seven points or more and had the best overall record among all Western Conference teams through the Group Stage.
The Earthquakes held the defending champions Seattle Sounders FC to a scoreless draw before earning back-to-back wins over Vancouver Whitecaps FC (4-3) and Chicago Fire FC (2-0). Since falling behind Vancouver 3-1 in the 59th minute of their match on July 15, San Jose has outscored its opponents 5-0.
Only Columbus and LAFC scored more goals in the Group Stage than San Jose’s six and finished with a higher goal differential than San Jose’s +3. The Earthquakes averaged 64.2% possession and completed 1,568 total passes in their three matches, compared to their opponents’ 885. Statistics for corner kicks and shots also skewed heavily in San Jose’s favor.
We also continued to see strong individual performances from the Quakes’ top players. Jackson Yueill completed 92.5% of his passes, per WhoScored, ranking him among the league’s most accurate midfielders. Meanwhile Chris Wondolowski was one of just two players with multiple goals in less than 60 minutes of playing time, while becoming the oldest player in MLS history with goals in back-to-back games.
All in all, it’s safe to say the Earthquakes were one of the most impressive teams in the Group Stage.
Real Salt Lake also deserve to be competing in the Round of 16, but their route to the Knockout Stage presented by Audi has been far less compelling. RSL defeated Colorado (2-0), tied Minnesota United FC (0-0) and fell to Sporting Kansas City (2-0). They finished with an even 1-1-1 record and a neutral goal differential.
No team that advanced scored fewer goals than RSL’s two. They scored two in their opening match and haven’t scored since, currently in the midst of a scoreless streak of 196 minutes (plus all applicable stoppage time). The other side of the coin, however, shows only Columbus (0) and New England (1) conceding fewer than RSL’s two. With RSL and San Jose each conceding no more than a single goal per game on average in this competition, a low final score could certainly be in the cards on Monday.
A low-scoring game might not be in the best interest of San Jose, who have a 5-17-7 record since the start of the 2019 season when scoring two or fewer goals. In fact, the Quakes’ most recent 2-0 victory over Chicago was their first such win since July 6 of last year, coincidentally coming against RSL (1-0). San Jose’s up-tempo, attacking style has afforded them a perfect 10-0-0 record when scoring 3+ goals under head coach Matias Almeyda.
“I think that in the Round of 16, this is one of the worst teams to face,” said Almeyda on Friday. “A team that is compact, strong in the defensive line, with many quality players who make a difference. They are good in the air. They have their own style and they know what they play. I think it will be a very difficult game, and we will see if we can figure out their virtues, their defects, and from someplace be able to overcome them. We have played twice against them and they have been difficult games. This game, because of where we are at and what we are playing for, will be another game. We always respect each opponent. We value them, but we obviously want to move on to the next round and hopefully we will be up to that level.”
Midfielder Jackson Yueill shared the sentiment that RSL will be a tough opponent.
“I think they’re a very challenging opponent and we’re going to have to be ready for the quality that they have,” the young American said. “They have a lot of dangerous players that can hurt us and they’re a very good, structured team. We’re going to have to go in with the right game plan, knowing that it’s the Knockout Stage and I think it’s a good opportunity to keep growing as a group within ourselves and we’re just going to have to try to play our style of soccer and hopefully it leads to the best.”
Almeyda hasn’t shuffled the lineup much throughout the tournament, opting for essentially the same XI in each match, save for a pair of changes in game three. Now with more than a full week between matches, Almeyda should have a healthy and rested squad to choose from on Monday. Whether he rolls the dice with consistency or has a trick up his sleeve is unknown.
RSL has started six players in all of their three matches, with the other nearly half of the lineup rotating for various reasons. Key midfielder Albert Rusnak missed the team’s last match in part due to a hip injury, but it is not believed to be serious.
The two teams have an oddly identical 11-11-11 against one another in regular season play.
Monday’s match presented by Intermedia kicks off at 5:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on FS1, KNBR 1050 and 1370 KZSF.