SAN JOSE, Calif. — Mondays are typically easy days on the MLS calendar, with many teams using the start of the week as a rest day following the weekend’s action. But for the San Jose Earthquakes, it was anything but a day off, as they dominated the LA Galaxy in a 3-2 U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal victory at Avaya Stadium.
The announced attendance of 14,056 saw a spectacular show from the Quakes, who under new head coach Chris Leitch are playing the attractive soccer fans have craved since the stadium opened to much fanfare in 2015. Chris Wondolowski scored twice, with Tommy Thompson assisting on both goals, and Danny Hoesen netted the winner for a San Jose side that has reached the semifinals of the Open Cup for only the second time in franchise history.
“These guys feel they can bring it to the organization, something they can contribute, something they can win,” said Leitch. “I don’t know a single guy in that locker room that doesn’t enjoy winning and doesn’t enjoy a trophy, and we are two games away from that.”
San Jose will face the winner of Tuesday’s FC Dallas versus Sporting Kansas City contest — the former are the defending tournament champions and the latter won the Cup the year before — in early August, with hosting privileges decided later this week via a blind draw. The Earthquakes have never won the competition, but they are playing at a level that may earn them their first trophy since capturing the Supporters’ Shield in 2012.
“It’s a fun tournament, and we really have a strong belief in this locker room,” said team captain Wondolowski. “Any time we step out there, we feel that we want to impose our play, and also enjoy ourselves out there. Tonight, we had a good balance of the two.”
Wondolowski made the 3-2 win against LA even more memorable with a special tribute to ailing midfielder Matheus Silva, who is recovering from a near-drowning accident at Lake Tahoe on the Fourth of July. Wondo showed his support for Silva by swapping his regular uniform #8 for the Brazilian’s #38. He had the full backing of the locker room and his head coach, and the classy move seemed to provide the Quakes captain with an added boost on the night.
“I think it was a hell of a tribute,” said Leitch. “Obviously, you have something like this happen to a team, and it shakes you. That’s for damn sure. We talked to team about it, and anything that happens after this news is pretty much insignificant, but the guys have been extremely professional. The guys have been worried, but they have been sending Matheus supportive messages. He’s been in our thoughts and prayers ever since, and will continue to be.”
Leitch said after the game that doctors had reported Silva’s recovery was going well, but he did not provide further details. The Quakes had played with heavy hearts a week ago in a 4-2 loss at Atlanta United — the same day Silva suffered the swimming accident — but they looked unleashed against the Galaxy in their second California Clasico victory in as many weeks.
“I thought the movement was pretty good,” said Leitch. “We stayed committed to the way we want to play and moving the ball, and that's really good to see. I think the effort, which has been consistent and constant, was again there.”
With midfield regulars Anibal Godoy and Darwin Ceren on international duty at this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, Leitch rolled the dice and started a central midfield duo of Thompson and Jackson Yueill. The performance from rookie Yueill, especially, impressed the new Quakes coach.
“It’s been a pretty damn good performance out of Jackson wherever I put him,” said Leitch. “Jackson has demonstrated here since he’s been a pro that he’s not just great with the ball at his feet and picking out that pass, but he can sniff out second balls and do his part defensively. I think Jackson has been fantastic every time he has been out there.”
Thompson was also exceptional on the night, as he took license to take on opposing defenders at every opportunity. But also showing his maturity, the Quakes first ever Homegrown Player signing made the passes he needed to in the attacking third. His two assists to Wondolowski got him deservedly on the scoresheet.
“I thought that those two ran that middle, especially against a very tough team in the Galaxy who use the middle of the field very well and loves to throw numbers to overload sides and things of that nature,” said Wondolowski. “Jackson Yueill is more of a number 10 but played a number six today and did a great job. I thought he was our Man of the Match. Tommy Thompson I thought was everywhere. Every time I looked up he was back there or overlapping and got two assists. I thought he had even better things that didn't go in the stat book tonight. I thought Tommy and Jackson were excellent."
The midfield pairing may not survive the return of Godoy to San Jose following the Gold Cup, but its performance gave confidence to Leitch that he had the parts to build a line-up that can compete for both the U.S. Open Cup title and a place in the MLS Cup playoffs. Thompson, whose hype train engine has been stoked for four seasons, looks ready to take the momentum of his recent performances and become the catalyst the Quakes crave on offense.
“I hope so,” said Leitch. “He’s in a creative attacking role. I hope he’s loose and I hope he’s creative, and I hope he’s picking his times to take risks. That’s what we want. The number of risks he is going to take in that part of the field, you have to be okay with not all those plays coming off.”
For his part Thompson stayed humble after the game, though he did smile brightly when asked to assess the moment. The Earthquakes have not made the playoffs since Thompson signed as a professional back in 2014, but he had a feeling that the postseason drought would soon come to an end.
“The coaching staff has a lot of confidence in us offensively,” said Thompson. “They know that if one of us might lose the ball, another teammate will make up for the mistake. The team has a lot of confidence right now, and we've had a lot of good results in the past couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to continuing in the coming weeks.”
The Quakes will also have new Designated Player signing Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili on board for the second half of the season and the Open Cup semifinals (and maybe final). Though he might be competing with the Georgian international for playing time — who is still two to three weeks from full fitness — Thompson knew that adding the attacking midfielder would only increasing San Jose’s chances of winning silverware in 2017.
“It’s exciting to have another player like Vako step into the locker room because it is just going to make us more deep and it’s going to make us even more dangerous,” said Thompson. “I am very excited about the locker room this year. I think it is the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here. I am really excited for what’s to come.”