SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The San Jose Earthquakes completed their 2016 preseason with a choppy, but effective, 1-0 victory over the New York Cosmos at Avaya Stadium. Clarence Goodson scored the only goal of the game, punching in a close range shot after a scrum in front of the net following a 51st minute corner kick.
Friendlies are tough to evaluate, especially preseason friendlies, but this match was important for the Earthquakes in enough ways to warrant the exercise. After all, the day before, head coach Dominic Kinnear made it clear that he wanted to build a habit of winning ahead of the regular season opener against the Colorado Rapids next weekend. In that regard, mission accomplished.
But what were the three most important take home lessons from Avaya Stadium on a cool February evening in front of a small, but passionate, collection of dedicated season ticket holders? Without further ado...
Work in the new guys -- The Earthquakes starting line-up featured only two new faces from last season, but they were the two players that Kinnear singled out as the most important signings of the off-season.
Simon Dawkins, who is no stranger to the Blue and Black, but was a newcomer to Avaya on the night, took station in the center of the formation alongside Anibal Godoy. He looked as smooth as ever on the ball, but without much space to work, never had to put the defense on its toes. Dawkins did trail the forwards into the attacking third for much of the game, and in the first half sprayed a pair of shots close to the target, but that was the extent of his involvement on offense. If he is going to play centrally to start the season, Dawkins will need to find a way to get himself more opportunities to show what he can do with the ball.
"I thought he did okay," said Kinnear. "We asked him to get more forward in the second half. In the first half, he was more defensively attached to Godoy, so we wanted to see him be more adventurous going forward. He was sometimes too involved in the build-up when I wanted to him to be more part of the attack."
Alberto Quintero, just two days after officially signing with the Quakes on loan from his Mexican second division club, played at right wing against the Cosmos, and though he was a bit rusty, he did show some of the speed that was advertised from the Panamanian international. However, he has a ways to go to be a sure-thing in the Quakes line-up, especially given his relative lack of interest in playing defense, Having Marvel Wynne behind him ameliorated the issue, but Quintero will need to get more involved across the center line to make the trade-off worth it.
"We're trying to get him fit in as short a period as we can," said Kinnear. "I thought he looked a bit tired by the second half. When he received the ball, he was looking a bit more backward than forward. Obviously, he needs some more games, more minutes, and more training sessions."
Good, but not great, Goodson -- He had the game's only goal, a spectacular left-footed finish at the post after a deflected ball in the six-yard box fell in his vicinity, which earns Goodson a "good" rating. Unfortunately, his touch was not up to his lofty standards on defense, and on a few occasions, the Cosmos were able to get some looks at goal.
"I thought we played okay, not great, but it was okay at times," said Goodson. "There are certainly things we need to improve upon. Certainly we want to play better, but that's kind of us, you know, grinding out a win. Keeping a zero and trying to get a goal. If that's what we need to do, we know we are capable of it."
Goodson, as well as fellow veteran center back Victor Bernardez, is 33 years old this season, so he isn't going to beat anyone in a sprint. Instead, his intelligence in positioning is what will likely keep him in the conversation for top-level defenders in MLS. Against the Cosmos, Goodson did not look out of place at any point in the match -- a big plus on the night -- and captained the back line to a well deserved shutout. The only quibble about Goodson was some less than crisp passing, something that he'll want to fix before the season opener against the Rapids.
Innocent lives! -- Yes, the Earthquakes million-dollar Designated Player forward Innocent took to the Avaya Stadium pitch for the first time in nearly a year, an appearance that meant much more for the Earthquakes looking at the big picture than a sleepy February friendly. Innocent had already appeared twice this preseason, but a slight groin injury had robbed him of time on the pitch when it mattered.
"We've been able to get him on the field for a couple of days, but then he feels something," said Kinnear. "It's all about how his body feels. I didn't think going into this game that he would be available because he had missed some time this week, but he came in and said he was okay, so we found some minutes for him."
When he strode up to the center line to be checked in at the 81st minute, Innocent did not in the least look nervous. Instead, he quickly took to the pace of the game and nearly beat the goalkeeper to a 50-50 ball in the 85th minute. He still doesn't have the dynamic look he featured to start last season -- not that it would be expected at this juncture -- but to know that he is that much closer to competing for a place in the starting line-up further lends credence to Kinnear's plan to foster competition at every position on the field.
Welcome back, Innocent!