Quakes Tame EPL side Norwich City

Cordell Cato goal gives San Jose 1-0 victory over visiting EPL side
by Luke James   |   Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cato, Martinez, San Jose Earthquakes, MLS - John Hefti Photography

SANTA CALRA, Calif. – To throw a bit of a British phrase Norwich's way as they head north to Portland for their next international friendly, the San Jose Earthquakes "upset the apple cart."

Cordell Cato scored the only goal as the Quakes beat English Premier League side Norwich City FC 1-0 at Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday night. Cato nipped in to intercept a back pass to Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn and steered the ball into the corner of the net.

The score was 1-0 to San Jose and, apart from a small knot of green and yellow disbelief in the visiting fan section, pandemonium rocked Buck Shaw

The English are coming, the English are coming. What does that mean in 2013? Well apart from dour faces in the press box complaining about the lack of a decent cup of tea, it means a team is in town that thinks it's one of the best in the world. Come to grace little old San Jose with its quaint 10,000 capacity college stadium, come to show the colonies how the game is played.

Is that so?

Historical Context

It was 63 years ago in the 1950 World Cup when  the USA were drawn against England, which at that time was considered one of the best teams in the world. Confidence was condescendingly high in the English camp that the team would easily sweep the Americans aside.

Indeed, England was so confident that its star player, Sir Stanley Matthews, didn't even travel to the stadium, spending the day resting at the hotel, presumably with his golden feet up. The USA had nothing to play for except their pride. US pride is not something to be underestimated – t he USA won 1-0. It was, and remains, one of the great upsets of the game.

No doubt the Norwich fans and to an extent the club will trot out the old excuse: It was only a pre-season friendly, a chance to give some of our players a run out, some minutes, it has no significance, it doesn't matter.

Or does it?

Friendly internationals and the importance of preseason games

Despite what particularly losing teams will claim these pre-season friendly games are important. This one was important to San Jose players and Norwich players alike. Regular 1st team starters dotted here and there in the lineups are anxious to make sure they keep their place. For everyone else it's a chance to show the boss that maybe he should reconsider his choice of starting players for that next crucial league game.

In the post-game press conference, SJ manager Mark Watson reminded us that these games are not only important to the team's pride they also serve to show the club's fans that their team can compete against an EPL side. And compete they did.

But who were the San Jose Earthquakes team this week?

Watson's dilemma far from elementary

Watson spearheaded this mostly reserve lineup with the usual pairing of midfielder-suddenly-turned-striker Walter Martinez and a rare start for striker Marcus Tracy. This was pretty much the San Jose reserve team, a lot of them sit on the bench for MLS fixtures or play midweek reserve games to crowds of 900 or so hardcore fans.

Given the San Jose talent off on international duty (Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon, Marvin Chavez) what unfolded before Watson may well have pleased and perplexed him in equal measure.

It was great to see Ramiro Corrales, the only remaining player from the inaugural MLS 1996 season, still playing 1st team soccer, out on the field again. Corrales not only sprayed the kind of precision midfield passes his experience permits, he also chased down and won the ball, dancing away from attempted tackles by EPL players 15 year his junior.

As for defender Brad Ring, well he ran rings around the Norwich strikers, popping up at vital moments to steal the ball, particularly from Norwich's recently signed Dutch multi-million dollar player Ricky Van Wolfswinkel. RVW is no RVP and retaliated by taking out Ring with a tackle from behind that found him decked on the very next play by Dan Gargan. Yellow card for Gargan but they look out for each other these Earthquakes.

San Jose not only denied Norwich the ball, but the Earthquakes kept NCFC from having any clear cut chances on goal.

USMNT vs. Costa Rica, Herb Scribner Photography, Soccer Newsday

When you find yourself a goal down inside 8 minutes the "superior team" doesn't panic, trained and even accustomed as they might be to weather set-backs. But as the first half drew to a close, the Quakes continued to display a consistent passing and possession game only seen in occasional bursts much of this season. You could sense a mounting tension in the Norwich players.

In the 2nd half, Norwich launched the usual raft of substitutions common to these preseason friendlies. This often disrupts the teamwork element of a side resulting in a disjointed “look at me boss” type of performance. But if anything these Norwich players seemed collectively desperate to atone for their team mates first half defensive gaff and general lackluster play.

San Jose responded by playing some of the best defensive, midfield, attacking linked play we've seen all year. Goalkeeper David Bingham made a couple of world class saves and showed excellent positional play. Between Busch and Bingham there's nothing to worry about when it comes to depth between the sticks.

The Earthquakes could have added a couple of additional goals, Shea Salinas in particular finding he could easily enough penetrate this EPL defense be it from the wing or head-on.

Bottom line: Norwich was outplayed in every area of the field. It was clear Norwich had bitten off a bit more than they could chew

After the game

I asked Watson what he thought about Ring's performance.

"I thought Brad did well,” he said. “Brad is very steady, he's a great squad guy, and when he has opportunities to play he does well. It's tough for him because he doesn't play a lot so his minutes other than reserve games they're few and far between. But he's always ready to play. He comes to training and works hard. I thought he was very solid tonight."

I asked him if the decision to start Martinez as a striker was born of necessity or was it a more calculated decision.

"Maybe. A little foreshadowing,” he said. “With Alan Gordon's suspension this weekend we needed 2 strikers so we're looking at a couple of different options."

Then, as a Manchester United fan, I thanked him for beating Norwich.

Amid the laughter I was told I was very welcome.

NEXT UP: July 27 – San Jose Earthquakes vs. Portland Timbers, Buck Shaw Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. 10:30 EST, CSNCA, 1590 KLIV.

Luke JAMES

Nationality:
England
College:
Bournville Arts Coll.
Club Domestic:
Manchester United
Club Foreign:
SJ Earthquakes
6'9" Englishman with great view of the game from anywhere in the stadium. Manchester United fan since 1967. San Francisco Bay Area resident and huge (sic) San Jose Earthquakes fan. Covers entire SF Bay area soccer scene for SN.
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