SAN JOSE, Calif. — On a bright and sunny January afternoon — a perfect Bay Area day for some soccer — the San Jose Earthquakes invited their season pass ticket holders to attend an open training session at Avaya Stadium. The event, dubbed the Black & Blue Scrimmage, attracted thousands of fans to watch the new Quakes and the old battle it out in a series of intra-squad games.
Scheduled to cap off the team’s first week of preseason training, the open practice was a chance for fans to watch how the squad is making progress in getting ready for the season opener in five weeks. The Quakes took the field to the applause of the more than two thousand in attendance before going through a series of warm-up exercises under the watchful eye of new assistant coach Alex de Crook.
Then, the field players were broken into small groups for contained games of keep-away, while the goalkeepers headed to the LOBINA end to work with new goalkeeper coach Jyri Nieminen on their skills and fitness. Nearly the entire roster was out for training, including a few of the Quakes Academy kids and a representative from USL affiliate Reno 1868 FC. Only Nick Lima, who is currently with the U.S. men’s national team and joins the team early next week, and Yeferson Quintana, who was en route to San Jose from his native Uruguay at the same time as the practice, did not attend.
The possession games involved six players positioned around the perimeter of a relatively small rectangular area and a connector within, all together playing one and two touch passes against four defenders that roamed the area. It was fast and technical, as the players rotated from offense to defense during the drill. The newest Earthquake, 15-year-old Gilbert Fuentes, played in the center for one session, holding his own against the four, much more physical defenders, while the oldest Earthquake, 35-year-old Chris Wondolowski, organized a defensive group of four in another, constantly communicating and thwarting the offense time and again.
The small-scale activities then gave way to what many fans were most looking forward to — the scrimmages. Playing on a shortened field, with goals placed at either end at the top of the penalty area, three squads played a form of round-robin 10 minute games. Head coach Mikael Stahre, who had let his assistants do most of the directing to that point in the day, roamed the center of the pitch, guiding and encouraging his players on.
The grey team, anchored by new Designated Player midfielder Magnus Eriksson and 2017 starting goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell, saw success in the games. The goal of the day was scored by Eriksson, when he pounced on a cleared shot from about 15 yards out and laced a left-footed volley into the corner of the net. The rocket shot drew a tremendous reaction from the crowd on hand, marking an auspicious start to the Swede’s tenure at Avaya Stadium.
The red team, with Wondolowski up top and Panamanian defender Harold Cummings stationed at center back, held their own in their two games. Cummings, after not playing at all last season due to injury, looked a little rusty at times, but his physical presence and high soccer IQ made him stand out on defense. The star of the team was MLS SuperDraft third round pick Kevin Partida, who, playing as a right back, made a strong impression with his passing under pressure.
The yellow team was the most stacked of the three, with attackers Vako and Danny Hoesen looking extremely sharp. The Georgian midfielder was the best player on the field for all three sides, and he dazzled at times with his composure and ball control. Rookie Homegrown goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski shined for the yellow squad as well, making a pair of notable saves that drew applause from the crowd, and first round draft selection Paul Marie looked skilled along the right sideline in his twenty minutes of action.
Other standouts on the day were Tommy Thompson and Jahmir Hyka, both playing light and loose on the wings for team red. With the Earthquakes current log-jam at outside midfielder, both players will certainly be fighting to impress Stahre during the preseason to get in the coach’s good graces.
In the center of the park, right under the nose of Stahre, were Anibal Godoy, Jackson Yueill, and Florian Jungwirth. The three returning Quakes all bring slightly different strengths to the center midfielder role, and the head coach seemed to focus most of his attention on their performances. Jungwirth, who celebrated his 29th birthday with a serenading from the crowd, is looking to move up from center back this season, so having a solid preseason at center mid is important for the German’s prospects. Yueill quietly put in two good shifts showing off his composure and passing ability. The second year Generation Adidas player looks poised to improve on his already impression rookie campaign.
The team’s two teenage Homegrown signings, Fuentes and 16-year-old defender Jacob Akanyirige, didn’t show any nerves at all. Even though he is the smallest player on the squad, Fuentes kept his composure in possession and made some good passes from his central midfield position. Akanyirige, with Cummings providing plenty of guidance, grew into his place as a center back on team red. He was not as physical as his opponents in challenging for the ball, but he didn’t back down either.
The shortened field produced a much quicker style of play than would be seen on a full-length pitch, but that added more to the excitement of the scrimmages. Also, the players were asked to limit their contact, especially in tackles, and were not wearing shin guards as a reminder. Through all three games, no one picked up even the slightest knock, and everyone saluted the crowd as they made their way off the field and back to the locker room.
Many of the Earthquakes players took to social media to celebrate the day, thanking the fans for checking out the scrimmage.
What a gorgeous day to have our @SJEarthquakes family come together and kickoff 2018. Over 2,000 people in attendance for a practice? It’s going to be a special year. #ForwardAsOne https://t.co/Q62jPre5eY— Jared Shawlee (@JaredShawlee) January 28, 2018
The Quakes will spend two more days in San Jose before departing for an extended stay in Tucson, Arizona. During that time, the Earthquakes will face the Portland Timbers on January 31 and Real Salt Lake on February 7, with both games being played at the Kino Sports Complex. Upon returning from their stay in the desert, the Quakes will take on Reno 1868 FC at Avaya Stadium on Saturday, February 10.
Training Session Notebook
- Partida, who starred with the red team, is not under contract, but is fighting for a place on the roster, as are his fellow 2018 MLS SuperDraft selections Marie and forwards Mohamed Thiaw and Danny Musovski. The Earthquakes currently have 27 of the 30 slots on their roster filled, so the four draft picks will continue to make their case for an MLS rookie contract through the rest of preseason.
- Quintana, a 21-year-old center back on a one-year loan from Uruguayan Champions Peñarol, arrived later in the afternoon in the Bay Area following a nearly 16 hour journey from South America. After completing his physical, Quintana will fly with the team to Arizona next week for the next leg of preseason camp.
- Reno 1868 FC head coach Ian Russell was also in attendance for the training session, as he had also been during part of the previous week of preseason camp. The former Quakes assistant coach was on hand to provide pointers to defender Antoine Hoppenot, one of his charges in Reno, as well as to scout some of the players that may make their way to the Earthquakes USL affiliate at some point this season.
- Many players stuck around for hours after the training session finished to sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans as a thank you for their support.
Loved being at @SJEarthquakes open practice and #BlackandBlue scrimmage best part was getting an autograph from the player I really wanted @Vakoqazaishvili now just need #Magnus and a.couple others for my jersey to be complete— garrett barker (@garrettbarker10) January 28, 2018
Thank you @SJEarthquakes for a great afternoon! @esperanza_703 and I appreciate these events! Makes us and all SPH feel special! Glad to see all our #QuakesFamily in the front office, fans, and players! See you all Feb. 10th! #Quakes74 https://t.co/ml0LRw1xaX— Eric Santiago (@SaintTaco707) January 27, 2018