Wholesale changes were in order throughout Tuesday night’s friendly between San Jose Earthquakes and Swansea City, with both Frank Yallop (San Jose) and Michael Laudrup (Swansea) clearing out their substitutes’ benches.
By the time the final whistle had gone on a 2-2 draw, Laudrup had used 21 players in total to Yallop’s 19. Both managers used the word “pleased” in their post-game press conferences when asked to describe their reaction to the result, played out in front of 9,239 at Buck Shaw Stadium.
“It was very useful, what I saw tonight,” said Laudrup, who took over the Swansea managerial post on June 15 after Brendan Rodgers left for Liverpool FC. “I think the first half, the first 60, 65 minutes we did well. It’s getting much better everyday, you can see that. We scored a couple of goals, and we could have scored a couple more.”
“But in the last 20 to 25 minutes we forgot the ball, we forgot to play,” Laudrup continued. “We gave it away too soon. That’s difficult for our team if we don’t have the ball, because then of course we have to run and it becomes difficult for us.”
During his two seasons at the helm of Swansea City, Rodgers had built upon the system of fluid passing and incisive movement begun by Roberto Martinez in 2007.
Stubborn in the vein of Arsene Wenger or Ian Holloway, managers of Arsenal and Blackpool, Rodgers was resolute in his desire to see his side play their passing game, no matter the circumstances surrounding the match.
Swansea became one of the greatest stories of the 2011-12 Premier League season, showing no nerves about being the first Welsh side to crack the English top flight during the league’s modern era.
Aided by some inspired work in the transfer market (namely, Gylfi Sigurdsson), the Swans rode their fluid system of football to an 11th-place finish, claiming some impressive results along the way.
Victories over Arsenal and Liverpool at the Liberty Stadium were highlights, but it was Swansea’s ability to obtain results when they needed that most contributed to their impressive final placement.
The Laudrup Era Shows Early Promise
Fast-forward to the final day in July. The Swansea side that Laudrup brought with him is already showing some indications of its new manager’s presence.
Michu and Chico, signed earlier this summer, joined Jonathan de Guzman in the starting lineup. Laudrup coached De Guzman, a central midfielder with a creative bent, at Mallorca in 2010-11 and has brought his former charge in on loan from Villarreal for the upcoming season.
After leaving Mallorca on less-than-cordial terms in late September 2011 (almost four years to the day from when Jose Mourinho left Chelsea under similar circumstances), Laudrup could have had his pick of the litter when it came to top European clubs.
A transcendent player in his day—in Christian Mohr Boisen's book Et Fodbolddynasti, German legend Franz Beckenbauer called him the best player of the 1990s and Andres Iniesta hailed him as the greatest of all time—Laudrup has already enjoyed some impressive spells of success in his relatively brief managerial career.
Still just 47, the former attacking midfielder led Danish side Brondby, with whom he had played as a youngster, to a league and cup double in 2005, a feat for which he earned Danish Manager of the Year.
His sides have a penchant for playing attractive football, and Laudrup was attracted to Swansea City in part because of their renowned style. His signing sent shockwaves throughout Wales, where Swansea fans who had been reeling from Rodgers’s departure perked up and hailed the inspired arrival of one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Laudrup departs from his predecessor in some very particular areas, however. He has noted that Swansea will not sneak up on anybody this season, a luxury they were afforded during their maiden Premiership voyage last season. Thus, they must have alternative styles in order should the fluid passing fail to fire.
“All the other teams in the Premier League know how Swansea is playing, and they will try to adapt to that, to find the weak points in our play,” Laudrup said. “That’s why we have to, we need some alternatives to the way we play normally, if it’s not working.”
A Mix of the Old and New Open the Scoring for Swansea
His side certainly started off well against San Jose, bossing possession for much of the first half. The inevitable jitters and lapses in concentration, so frequently seen during preseason fixtures, were also on display, but as the half progressed, the starting XI began to play some very good football.
Michu, Chico and De Guzman all started for Swansea, and holdover first-teamers Michel Vorm, Ashley Williams, Luke Moore, Leon Britton and Danny Graham rounded out Laudrup's lineup to start the game.
They met a San Jose side with nine changes made to the team that had started Saturday night’s enthralling 1-1 draw with Chicago Fire.
Forward Steven Lenhart, who had played the role of savior against the Fire by way of a spectacular volleyed equalizer in the 98th minute—the latest goal ever scored in Earthquakes club history—was on the bench, as were Chris Wondolowski, Rafael Baca, Shea Salinas and Alan Gordon.
Thirty-three-year-old Ramiro Corrales, named to last week's All-Star game, was in the starting lineup at left back.
Swansea started on stronger footing—Yallop attributed that to the makeshift lineup he sent out—with Luke Moore and Danny Graham both seeing early chances go begging for the visitors.
San Jose mounted their first real attack in the 23rd minute, when Corrales picked out a wide-open Sam Garza at the edge of the penalty area. Garza took a touch to settle before firing a fierce drive that had eyes for goal. But Vorm, excellent last season for Swansea, was able to palm the effort over the bar.
After beginning the game somewhat disjointed, often electing to play over the top for Graham and attacking midfielder Michu when passing lanes closed down, Swansea finally began to settle and play their neat, triangular passing game that had so captivated the Premier League a season ago.
'Quakes right-back Jed Zayner managed to pick out forward Cesar Pizarro with a good cross in the 31st minute, but Pizarro could only head over into the top netting. Swansea surged thereafter, embarking upon a steady acceleration that would last until the end of the half.
A poor back-pass from Mehdi Ballouchy, whose trade from New York Red Bulls was only finalized on Monday morning, saw a poor back pass picked out in the 36th minute. The ball fell to Graham, whose left-footed drive sizzled just past keeper David Bingham’s far post.
Wayne Routledge then found Michu at the top of the box in the 39th minute, but the man who tallied an impressive 15 goals for Rayo Vallecano last season could only fire wide of Bingham’s right post.
Michu was excellent on the night, providing the sort of attacking dynamism that will surely be needed in the upcoming season.
Swansea would open the scoring just two minutes later.
Swans left-back Ben Davies sent a searching cross-field ball for Routledge that Corrales easily picked out, but the defender’s volley, intended as a back pass for Bingham, fell woefully short.
Ever alert to that sort of danger, Graham raced onto the loose pass and, after touching past the onrushing Bingham, coaxed his right-footed shot into the back of the net to put his side up 1-0.
Swansea would continue their vein of pressure to start the second half, and in the 60th minute, Williams sent in a curling cross from the right edge of the penalty area.
It fell perfectly for his fellow central defender Chico, who rose highest and headed down past Bingham’s right to make it two goals to none for his side.
A Timely Trio Turn the Tide for San Jose
Both Laudrup and Yallop began sending on substitutes in rapid succession after the second goal, but it was the latter’s inspired introductions of Lenhart, Shea Salinas and Simon Dawkins in the 62nd minute that turned the match on its head.
The diaspora of key Swansea players headed for the sidelines was met by a number of the 'Quakes' top players entering the game. It was a disparity that would change the match's complexion entirely.
“We brought in the ‘reinforcements,' if you like, Yallop said. “Those guys who are really game sharp, and you notice a big difference when they come on, they can change the game.”
Whereas San Jose had appeared to be on the back foot for most of the game, they suddenly pushed into the ascendancy.
Dawkins, as he'd done so adroitly on Saturday in a performance that had earned him the top spot in the weekly Castrol rankings the strings, tucked into an attacking midfield position (he excels when he is able to cut in from his starting assignment on the wing).
Salinas, who had been superb at both right wing and right-back against Chicago, quickly began wrecking havoc on the left for San Jose.
It didn’t take the winger long to put Swansea left-back Ashley Richards, brought on for starter Angel Rangel, under pressure.
Slipped in behind the defense by Guvenisik, Salinas ghosted past Richards to the endline before cutting his cross back across goal, where it went untouched.
San Jose had turned the tide, however, and in the 74th minute Rafael Baca, substituted just minutes earlier, took a quick free kick, sending a lofted ball cross field to Salinas.
The winger collected with ease before picking out Chris Wondolowski, brought on alongside keeper Evan Newton and Baca in the 71st minute.
Normally metronomic with his consistency in front of goal, Wondolowski’s powerful header blazed past Vorm’s near post.
But Salinas was far from finished with his industrious work.
A bit of inspired vision from the 24-year-old Dawkins picked out Salinas on the left wing in the 80th minute.
Darting past Richards on the left wing, Salinas sent his cross toward the arriving Lenhart, who could do nothing else but side-foot his close-range effort past Vorm and into the back of the net to bring the ‘Quakes to within a goal.
The crowd, ominously silent for much of the game (much to the chagrin of the 1906 Ultras, San Jose's boisterous band of Ultras), began making their voices heard.
Channeling San Jose’s Goonies mentality might have seemed a bit bizarre for a friendly, but make no doubt about it—the 'Quakes' never-say-die attitude was on full display from the time Lenhart found the mark.
Another superb sequence from the Earthquakes in the 82nd minute saw Wondolowski nod down a header for Dawkins, whose first-time ball split a seam on that vulnerable Swansea right flank and found Corrales, who sent in a good, hard cross that was headed clear for a corner.
After Salinas fired wide in the 83rd minute—a rare shot on goal for him, and one that he looked like he’d have liked to have back—Dawkins again played the role of creator, this time in the 85th minute.
After a neat bit of dribbling, Dawkins picked out Baca on the right wing. The central midfielder's inch-perfect cross missed Wondolowski by a whisker, but who else than Lenhart rose to meet it. The forward's powerful header coursed past a helpless Vorm's left to even up the game at two.
Swansea substitute striker Leroy Lita had two chances to seal the game for his side but was unable to show the same sort of accuracy his opposite number Lenhart displayed.
Yallop Impressed by Ballouchy’s Debut
San Jose finalized a trade on Monday that sent an international spot and a conditional draft pick, both from 2013, to New York Red Bulls for Bay Area product Mehdi Ballouchy.
A graduate of Gunn High School in San Jose and a two-year player at Santa Clara University (he will have remembered Buck Shaw well from his collegiate days), Ballouchy had little time to adapt to the new time zone or his new teammates before taking the field against a very good Premiership side.
“Ballouchy was a little tired, you know, he traveled all day yesterday,” Yallop said. “I think he probably would have enjoyed playing a bit more late on, but just in general, I thought he was good on the ball, he keeps it well.
Like Dawkins, Ballouchy loves to cut infield and enjoyed his best spells in central midfield.
The midfielder particularly impressed with his ability to retain possession in tight spaces, showing the sort of ingenuity that is often a requisite to pick apart teams of Swansea’s stature.
His poor back pass aside, which almost led to a Swansea goal in the first half, it was an impressive display from the newest Earthquake.
“He’ll get up to speed for the way we play, quicker and what we try to do is really move it as quick as we can, and don’t let it settle,” Yallop said. “Once he gets used to the speed of that, it’ll be really good.”
Asked which of the other Earthquakes impressed him on the night, Yallop noted Ike Opara in central defense as well as the striker pairing of Guvenisik and Pizarro , who started the game.
He credited both forwards for “looking pretty good together,” once they shook off the rust of the game's opening moments.
Tuesday’s friendly marked the third consecutive summer that San Jose have played an English Premiership side, each time at Buck Shaw. After drawing 0-0 against Tottenham in 2010, the ‘Quakes defeated West Bromwich Albion 2-1 in 2011 before Tuesday night’s 2-2 draw.
Finished with their three-game tour of the United States (Swansea lost 2-1 to Colorado Rapids before defeating Ventura County Fusion 1-0 ahead of Tuesday’s game), Laudrup’s side now fly back to Wales. A friendly against Blackpool awaits next Tuesday, before Swansea bring their preseason to a close with a friendly against Stuttgart.
San Jose now enjoy a 10-day respite before their Aug. 11 game against Seattle Sounders at Buck Shaw.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes used in this article were gathered on site.