Just a few days after beating the LA Galaxy 4-2 in a friendly down in Irvine, the San Jose Earthquakes were back at it in preseason training next door to Avaya Stadium. All 26 players under contract, as well as the four 2018 MLS SuperDraft picks, were in attendance on a sunny but chilly South Bay morning.
Head coach Mikael Stahre had his charges playing short side scrimmages before running through an extended set-piece drill. Full teams, both on offense and defense, practiced free kicks into the penalty area — attackers following designed plays and defenders trying to possess and clear the danger. Goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell was kept especially busy during this exercise, barking orders to his back line and making necessary punch saves.
Stahre had a hands-on approach to the drill, pulling players aside to provide further instruction. The players on both sides of the ball were going at full-speed, as neither team was interested in letting the other one triumph. Center back Yeferson Quintana, the tallest man on the field, looked good in the air throughout the drill, as did his partner Harold Cummings, whose physical presence makes it tough to maneuver around the Panamanian, something that was especially important for the attentively watching head coach. Both are expected to be the Quakes opening day starters.
“I’m really happy with them,” said Stahre. “They are solid and they are really strong and they are good one-on-one and in the air. They are good with the ball, but most of all, they are strong defenders. From my perspective, the most important thing they need to do is defend the goal, and so far, they’ve been pretty good.”
As a partnership, Cummings and Quintana have played in three games so far this preseason, 45 minutes together against both Real Salt Lake and Reno 1868 FC, and the entire 90 minutes against the Galaxy last Saturday. In the first two matches, the duo kept a clean sheet, but against LA, they anchored a defense that did allow two goals, something that concerned Stahre.
“Of course, we conceded too many chances in that game,” said Stahre, “but from my perspective, defense is not just about the defending line. It’s from the attackers down to the goalkeeper. It’s all eleven players that are involved in the defense. And we are doing well in that.”
The Quakes play one more preseason game, Thursday afternoon against Reno in a closed-door scrimmage, before setting their sights on Minnesota United and the MLS season opener on March 3. Stahre, who earlier in the preseason had emphasized defense in training sessions, then moved his attention to the attacking side of the ball, now has a complete game plan in mind with every practice opportunity.
“Both,” said Stahre. “For me that is really important. We can talk about the ball possession and after the game look at things here or there, but from my perspective, in soccer, you have the ball every second time, right? You attack, you lose the ball, and you defend, so you have to focus on both. That is my philosophy and it had brought me success in the past, so we will continue to focus on both.”
- Anibal Godoy and Magnus Eriksson, both who were on the bench for the game in Irvine over the weekend, but did not take the field against the Galaxy per Stahre’s decision, were full participants in training.
- The attacking players finished the training session with a shooting clinic that drew plenty of attention, especially from the defenders watching from the side and providing some often amusing commentary. To a tee, everyone on the field let out a collective “Wow!” at a Vako strike that was curled expertly around the defender dummies and caromed off the inside of the post. Another wonder-strike from the DP later in the drill drew much the same reaction.
- The youngest player on the team, midfielder Gilbert Fuentes, celebrated his 16th birthday on Wednesday with a good training session. Assistant coach Steve Ralston spent extra time with Fuentes, as well as Jacob Akanyirige, Paul Marie, and Kevin Partida, after most of the players had retreated to the locker room, working through various drills with the Quakes youngest players.
- Reno 1868 FC, the Quakes opponent on Thursday, announced that head coach Ian Russell had his contract extended through the 2019 season following his successful debut last year. Russell, who has been part of the Earthquakes organization in one role or another since 2000 -- save the two years the club was on hiatus after moving to Houston -- took the reigns at Reno following eight seasons as an assistant coach in San Jose.