The San Jose Earthquakes were terrible last season, their worst as a franchise. Wins were hard to come by in 2014, and the team collected a grand total of 6 by season's end. No surprise, San Jose completed the year with a 15-game winless streak, the second-longest such streak in MLS history.
But 2015 has started with much more optimism. The Quakes brought back head coach Dominic Kinnear to replace the ineffective Mark Watson. Some key veterans -- Sam Cronin, Jason Hernandez, and Jon Busch to name three -- were traded or let go. Kinnear and general manager John Doyle signed a third designated player in Swiss international striker Innocent Emeghara. And to house everyone, the Earthquakes opened brand-new Avaya Stadium -- many steps above the college stadium they had played in for the last oh-so-many years.
Undefeated FC Dallas needed a stoppage time goal to beat the Quakes in the MLS regular season opener, a result that was a cruel injustice given the improved play by San Jose. The team didn't give up, however, like it seemed to do at times in 2014, and it rattled off two impressive victories against Seattle and Chicago. And after threes weeks of the season, the Earthquakes sat in second place in the dominant Western Conference.
In week four of the season, the Quakes travel east to face the New England Revolution. Last year's MLS Cup representative from the Eastern Conference, losers to the LA Galaxy in the final, the Revs have played three games in 2015 without scoring a goal. Sure, they've missed the services of U.S. international Jermaine Jones, who required surgery in the offseason to repair a hernia injury, but the Revolution have been plagued by a general lack of finishing.
Kinnear and the Quakes will not take their opponent lightly, however, especially given the Revs track record at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. New England features highly touted midfielder Lee Nguyen, who in 2014 was a finalist for MLS MVP, as well as host of options on offense including Juan Agudelo and Charlie Davies. For the Earthquakes midfield, it will be all about slowing down Nguyen in the middle of the pitch.
"Lee Nguyen is a very good player for them, no question about it," said Kinnear. "He had a great season for them last year, and if he had won MVP of the league, I don't think anyone would have complained -- except for the other two guys that were up for the award. They are a good team to begin with, but Nguyen makes them better. He is a key for them, especially in the attacking third."
The task of neutralizing Nguyen will fall to Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi -- starting for Fatai Alashe while the rookie is with the U.S. U-23 men's national team in Europe -- and JJ Koval. The central midfield duo will need to provide cover for the defensive back four, especially with New England's propensity to attack straight up the spine of their formation. Stop Nguyen, and the Earthquakes have a strong chance of extending their winning streak to three games.
The match is scheduled to kick-off from Gillette Stadium at noon Pacific time and will available to watch on TV on CSN Bay Area. For radio listeners, tune to 1590 KLIV to follow all the action from New England. Online viewers can find the game streaming through MLS Live.
The Earthquakes return to California following the match against the Revolution and will begin preparations to face Real Salt Lake on April 5, Easter Sunday.