Win, and you’re in.
This will likely be the mentality in San Jose’s locker room before Sunday’s 1 p.m. kickoff against Minnesota United FC. A victory over a ninth-seeded expansion team is the only obstacle that now stands between the Earthquakes and snapping the club’s five-year postseason drought.
And it could only be fitting that this would all culminate for San Jose on Decision Day 2017, though it’s still very likely a scenario that few had ever considered would play out for a club who sacked its head coach halfway through the season and one who currently carries a goal differential in league play of -22.
But Jesse Fioranelli, the club’s general manager who’s still in his first season, pledged that things would be different. That the club would focus on fostering a culture of winning trophies under his command.
Fioranelli’s pro-action mentality was no better displayed at the halfway point of the season, when one day after a victory against Real Salt Lake, head coach Dominic Kinnear was sacked. At the time, San Jose’s record was 6-6-5. The decision sent obvious ripples through the locker room, and former technical director Chris Leitch was elevated to fill the void.
And the changes were only getting started in the mind of Fioranelli, who before moving west served as the former Sporting Director of the Italian club AS Roma.
Fioranelli’s off-season personnel additions have been plugged right in and made immediate contributions thus far this season. Team captain Chris Wondolowski, as many would expect, has paced the club in terms of goals scored, with first-year players such as Valeri Qazaishvili, Danny Hoesen and Marco Ureña trailing just behind. The four will all likely be looking to capitalize Sunday against Minnesota, who have conceded the most goals in MLS.
But perhaps the most dramatic and equally intelligent change both Fioranelli and Leitch have made is the decision to shelf All-Star goalkeeper David Bingham — who is expected to depart from the club at season’s end — in favor of the young apprentice Andrew Tarbell.
All of this being said, San Jose still have a game to play. Minnesota are vulnerable — the club is fresh off a 3-0 shellacking at the hands of the Los Angeles Galaxy last week — and the club have collected just three road wins this season, however, the Loons have won each of those three in their last six away matches.
At Avaya Stadium this season, San Jose have posted an impressive 9-2-5 record, including six of the last eight league matches played at home. Overall, Minnesota have found themselves in the losing column in eight of their last 11 league road games.
Projected Starting XI
(4-2-3-1, left to right) GK: Andrew Tarbell – Shea Salinas, Florian Jungwirth, Victor Bernardez, Kofi Sarkodie – Darwin Ceren, Anibal Godoy – Vako Qazaishvili, Chris Wondolowski, Jahmir Hyka – Danny Hoesen