SAN JOSE, Calif. — New head coach Mikael Stahre would have you believe that his San Jose Earthquakes are a work in progress. No doubt, the Swede is still looking for his squad to find its footing following an uneven first month to the MLS regular season.
A closer than it had to be win against Minnesota United in the opener was followed up by successive losses at Sporting Kansas City and home against New York City FC, and Stahre said earlier in the week that was considering making some changes to his starting eleven, a lineup that has been the same in the Quakes first three games.
“For me, we have put out the same lineup the last three games in a row, and it gave us more stability,” Stahre said, “but now we have played three games, and I am open to changes. Maybe I keep the same lineup and exactly the same shape. Maybe I make some small changes. We’ll see.”
Six goals scored and seven goals allowed in those three games suggests that the team is still finding the right balance between opening up the attack and staying organized in defense. To get back to winning ways, starting with this Saturday’s match at the Philadelphia Union, Stahre will need to find the right tactics that allow the Earthquakes to be more assertive in controlling the pace of the game.
“We must find a balance,” Stahre said. “We can’t just sit back, and we can’t travel to Philadelphia and be naive either, so we must find a balance. Actually, I think we had an okay performance in Kansas City, and we went there with a good mentality and good game plan. So, generally speaking, we will need to follow our own ideas and our own plan, but we must adjustment it to this opponent.”
The critical connection between the attacking four and the defensive back line consists of midfielders Anibal Godoy and Florian Jungwirth. The two teammates were paired together in the preseason, tasked with catalyzing the Quakes pressing efforts, but their on-field cohesiveness has been inconsistent.
Both players look equally comfortable sitting deeper, protecting the centerback duo of Harold Cummings and Yeferson Quintana, as they do moving forward in support of the offense. The dual nature of their responsibilities mean that, at times, Godoy and Jungwirth have looked out of sync to start the season, and Stahre has been adjusting his instructions to play to the strengths of each player.
“Godoy is not a typical number six, but for me he is a number eight, more box to box,” Stahre said. “He has performed well so far, but both him and me, we expect more. Some small injuries during the preseason and last week he came back a bit late from the national team games. But those guys have only played three games together so far, while some teams have played up to six. So if you ask me again in a few games, I will know more. I think that Godoy is doing well, but but both him and me, we expect a little bit more.”
Godoy is a lock to make the Panamanian national team ahead of this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, but he says his full attention is currently with the Earthquakes. On NYCFC’s game winning goal last weekend, Godoy’s failure to track Maxi Moralez out of the midfield ultimately allowed the playmaker time to snap off his shot, something he acknowledges is a risk of his style of play.
“I try to play box to box and get to the 18 and score goals,” Godoy said, “but I also like to help the team on defensive too. It is a lot of work to go box to box, but I know I have to prepared for that.”
Godoy plays much more as a number six defensive midfielder with Panama, but the more free-roaming role he has in San Jose also allows him to direct the action on both sides of the ball. Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski stressed the importance of having Godoy in the lineup, especially for all the intangibles he brings to the game.
“His composure is amazing,” Wondolowski said. “If you look at his passes, they’re passes that help break down a defense. There’s people that connect passes that go backwards and go sideways, and don’t necessarily help break down a defense, but his passes beat two, three, four guys, and those don’t go into stats sheets or box scores, but those are very important actions that go under the radar.”
Wondolowski went on to call Godoy the team’s general on the field, describing how the Panamanian provides instruction and encouragement from his central station. He is not as loud and animated as his midfield partner Jungwirth, but he is always communicating with his teammates throughout the game.
“It is part of my personality,” Godoy said. “I try to play this way. I play to help the team. I think we all play well together. When we are all playing together, I know we can achieve great things. I always try to help the team on and off the field.”
Organization and teamwork are two qualities Stahre has emphasized in his short time in charge of San Jose. The two recent losses are certainly counterproductive to the team’s ambitions, but the coach isn’t going to overreact and make big changes to the lineup and formation. A lucky bounce here, a different deflection there, and perhaps the Earthquakes are riding an unbeaten streak heading into Philly. Stahre remains sanguine in his view of the season so far.
“We can always discuss some situations and the balance in the team,” Stahre said, “but for me, if you look at the two previous games against Kansas City and New York, we are playing against two good teams. They were really equal games, and if we had been a little bit more effective and scored our chances, we would have at least two points more. But this is the game, and we have played against some really good opponents also, so we must be humble, but I think we are the right track.”