SAN JOSE, Calif. — The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The San Jose Earthquakes went through a raft of changes in the offseason, but they started their 2018 MLS campaign in the same manner as the last season ended. Back on Decision Day in October, the Quakes defeated Minnesota United 3-2 on a dramatic stoppage time goal. They repeated the scoreline Saturday night at sold-out Avaya Stadium in the season opener for both teams.
The hosts controlled the game for most of the first half, getting two goals in the span of less than two minutes when first Danny Hoesen and then Vako hit the back of the net for San Jose. In the second stanza, Hoesen stretched the lead to 3-0, enough to stave off a late Minnesota comeback that saw Loons forward Kevin Molino bag two goals in the closing 10 minutes. It was beautiful soccer for most of the night, though the ending was a bit forgettable.
“It was a wonderful atmosphere tonight,” head coach Mikael Stahre said. “I enjoyed every second. Maybe not the last 10 minutes, but it was a good atmosphere for sure.”
Stahre won on his MLS debut behind the new-look Quakes and their confident attacking game. In addition to Vako and Hoesen, captain Chris Wondolowski and offseason Designated Player signing Magnus Eriksson gave the Swedish coach all the attacking tools he needed to beat the Loons. Stahre has implemented a pressing style of play that resulted in numerous scoring opportunities in the season opener and promises a more potent offense that should top last season’s anemic 39 goals scored.
“Danny and Wondo and Magnus and Vako are really dangerous,” Stahre said. “I think they performed like the preseason, actually. We followed the plan, but then we conceded two goals in a couple minutes in the second half. It’s hard but we can’t forget that we took three points in the opening game, and that’s number one.”
Hoesen, whose first goal of the night, a one-time shot from 20 yards at the top of the box, has been nominated for MLS Goal of the Week, was assisted by Vako, who less than two minutes later added the Quakes second goal off a cross by Wondolowski. The quick 2-0 lead stunned Minnesota, and San Jose dominated the rest of the half. Hoesen’s second goal of the night, which followed a lengthy sequence of passing through the Quakes attacking quartet, gave the Dutch striker his brace.
“It was nice for myself and it was nice for the team,” Hoesen said. “We definitely wanted to win today, and I think we played well for 60-70 minutes, and then we got sloppy and they scored two goals. We worked hard enough to keep the win.”
Both of Hoesen’s goals were set up by Vako, who played his best game in Black and Blue after arriving as a Designated Player last summer. The Georgian international was crucial in maintaining possession and getting his teammates involved in the attack. He finished the night with a goal and two assists, very impressive individual numbers to start the season, but he was only interested in one number following the game.
“We were playing at home,” said Vako. “It was important that we get three points.”
The Earthquakes eased up on the visitors when the score reached 3-0, something that Stahre acknowledged he was disappointed to see, but he will have two weeks to prepare his team for its next game, away at Sporting Kansas City on March 17. Florian Jungwirth, who has moved up to defensive midfielder after playing centerback all of 2017, is ready to fix the issues that allowed the Loons back into the game.
“We now have two very strong opponents with KC and New York coming up, so we have to learn from this,” Jungwirth said. “Minnesota is a good team but obviously not a favorite to make the playoffs, so the next weeks will come tougher opponents, and they will punish us more if we do those sloppy mistakes in the last 15 minutes. We have to learn that maybe we have to be more humble when we have a lead like that and play smarter. I am sure we can do that better and then we are on our way.”
For Wondolowski, who is entering his fifth season as the team’s captain and has seen more than his share of players come and go in San Jose, the season opening 3-2 victory, though a bit nervy at the end, was a good sign that all the pieces are coming together.
“It is always vital to get off to a good start, especially with a new coaching staff,” Wondolowski added. “Everything they are preaching and you are working on, to see it all come to fruition is always nice to see it result in three points. Obviously there is some stuff we can work on, but all in all, it was great to get three points to begin the season.”
San Jose Earthquakes 3 - 2 Minnesota United FC
March 3, 2018 - Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif.
Scoring Summary: SJ - Danny Hoesen (Vako) 27; SJ - Vako (Chris Wondolowski) 28; SJ - Danny Hoesen (Vako) 59; MIN - Kevin Molino (Christian Ramirez, Jerome Thiesson) 81; MIN - Kevin Molino (Rasmus Schuller) 85.
Misconduct Summary: MIN - Tyrone Mears (caution) 25; SJ - Jimmy Ockford (caution) 71.
San Jose Earthquakes line-up: Andrew Tarbell; Shea Salinas, Harold Cummings, Yeferson Quintana (Jimmy Ockford 54), Nick Lima; Anibal Godoy, Florian Jungwirth; Vako (Fatai Alashe 88), Chris Wondolowski, Magnus Eriksson (Tommy Thompson 82); Danny Hoesen.
Statistics: Shots: 18, Shots of goal: 9; Saves: 3; Fouls: 14; Corner kicks: 9, Offside: 2.
Minnesota United FC line-up: Matthew Lampson; Tyrone Mears, Michael Boxall, Francisco Calvo, Jerome Thiesson; Rasmus Schuller, Ibson (Collen Warner 79), Ethan Finlay (Miguel Ibarra 76), Sam Nicholson; Kevin Molino, Abu Danladi (Christian Ramirez 29).
Statistics: Shots: 15, Shots on goal: 5; Saves: 6; Fouls: 17; Corner kicks: 8, Offside: 1.