Another week of MLS action is in the books, and the San Jose Earthquakes continue to show improvement and a better understanding of Matias Almeyda’s system. Let us talk about some of the things that have happened in San Jose.
Another Home Game Another Win
After a terrible start to the 2019 MLS season, the Quakes find themselves holding the final playoff spot in the West and have not lost at home since March 30. Last Saturday it was league newcomers FC Cincinnati that got a taste of the improved Quakes, and like everyone else in the previous month they could not figure out the Quakes style. Cincinnati had played on Wednesday and look like they are in total disarray and manager Alan Koch’s comments after their midweek loss to the Philadelphia Union probably didn’t inspire any confidence in his locker room. Speaking to the media, Koch said,” We’ve only had one window as a club. We have another window coming up where we need to find additional players to improve the group. I think we’re very aware of it. It’s a project.” Definitely, not the harshest criticism to come from a manager but it can’t help a team that has not scored a goal in over 450 minutes.
Speaking of teams staying off the scoresheet, Saturday’s match was also Daniel Vega’s third clean sheet of the season. His three saves against Cincinnati puts him at the top of the MLS list with 39 saves so far this season. Granted a lot of those saves were near miracles, and his total is so high because he has also faced the most shots of any MLS keeper so far this season. The defense also provided the only offense of the match when Nick Lima took a pass from Cristian Espinoza in the 22nd minute and skipped a shot past Cincinnati goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton for his first score of the season. After a steep learning curve, it looks like Lima is settling into the Quakes new system, what that means for Gregg Berhalter and his roster decision for the upcoming Gold Cup we will have to wait and see.
Next Up, A Trip to New England
If you are a team with a new manager that plays a style entirely unfamiliar for the league and it looks like you are finally starting to figure things out it can help to play some teams that may not be having the same luck you are and right now the Quakes are in one of those stretches. Last week they beat a team who is having a tough time but is brand new to the league and next week they play a team that has been around since the beginning of MLS that is having a hard time right now, New England Revolution.
The Revs just got absolutely picked apart by the Philadelphia Union losing 6-1 and now have a league-worst goal differential of -14. This presents an opportunity for the Quakes to pick up some points before they go into a gauntlet the next several weeks with matches against Toronto, D.C. United, and Houston Dynamo. With the Gold Cup also around the corner, Almeyda and company are going to have to find a way to keep this team healthy and competitive during this long stretch of early summer. I am curious to see how the Quakes bodies keep up with this demanding style.
Echoes of Goonie Time
Much of the news of the last several weeks has centered around the Quakes finally finding a way to use Almeyda’s system to their success and how long they can keep this going, but one thing that I don’t see being discussed is how the depth, or lack thereof, can really hinder this team going forward.
The Quakes lead the league with 26 yellow cards, and their aggressive style is costing some important players minutes on the pitch. Already this season Anibal Godoy has had to sit a match due to yellow card accumulation and the Quakes will be without one of their star players this weekend because of Cristian Espinoza’s double yellow against Cincinnati. Tommy Thompson will also miss a match the next time he gets carded as he now sits on four yellow’s this season. Even Luis Felipe has received a yellow card, and he has only played 11 minutes this season! If the Quakes want to make it to the end of this long season in one piece, they are going to have to find a way to play without getting too aggressive. Either that or find better ways not to get caught but this level of discipline is unsustainable for a team with the roster like the Quakes.
Chris Wondolowski still sits at 144 goals one behind Landon Donovan for most all-time MLS goals. While I am fully confident that Wondo will not only equal that record but surpass it this season it has been strange and sad to see the legend being reduced to a mostly cheerleader role. The battle cry during the Goonie Time days was “Goonies never say die” and as I think about Wondo’s role in that era and where he is now I am reminded of that old military saying made famous by General MacArthur. Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.