The day is here: The San Jose Earthquakes are set to return to action Friday night after nearly four full months off.
Can’t say for sure it will happen until the game against the Seattle Sounders kicks off Friday a little after 6 pm PT, because we can’t take anything for granted these days, but if we feel pretty good about the game happening, let’s turn out attention to it.
I was one of the reporters who got to speak to Earthquakes head coach Matias Almeyda Thursday in advance of the game, and let’s use some of the talking points from that to structure our discussion of what to watch for in a frankly unknowable context.
Was there enough time to prepare?
While Earthquakes players have been consistent in saying arriving first to the bubble in Orlando was beneficial to give them time to adjust and find a daily routine, Almeyda pretty flatly rejected that premise from his own perspective.
“The truth is, we arrived earlier so we could train as a team,” Almeyda said to reporters via translator. “The other teams, in their states, they were able to train as a group, but not us. I don’t think we got a benefit from being the first team to arrive, it was just out of necessity to be able to train as a team.”
I think San Jose really made lemonade, but I have to say I agree with Almeyda here. Most teams got at least a week or two of team training in home markets before the Quakes had their first session as a group in Orlando, and a few teams had been training together for many weeks. That’s not insignificant! I don’t think the tournament will shake out strictly the teams that could train the longest will go the deepest, but the teams that had barely any time to train properly, like the Quakes, are at major risk to not only perform poorly, but to get a slew of injuries. We’ll see.
Will San Jose outperform expectations?
The first game against the Sounders could be a blessing in disguise, as the Sounders didn’t get to train much earlier and they’ll be full of rust, too. Considering the Sounders are the strongest team in the group on paper, it’s probably ideal to get them first, especially after a long layoff.
But will it make a difference? I don’t think Almeyda was deflecting, but he was honest that the MLS is Back Tournament is not like any other competition.
“I think the expectations aren’t what they would be in a normal tournament,” he said. “There’s the reality, which is that we trained 12 days as a team before the tournament. The only thing we’ll try to do is have a presentable squad. But it will be difficult in terms of play, maintaining a rhythm, because we weren’t able to train as much as we would like to before our tournament.”
And Almeyda reiterated a point Danny Hoesen brought up this week about the team’s priority: Health above all.
“What I’m most interested in is the health of the players, to be able to be competitive, even with the challenge of only having 12 days to get the squad ready. Just so you can think about it, this whole time we haven’t been able to have a 90-minute scrimmage. I know the players will give it their all, we are giving it our all,” Almeyda said.
Listen, I think in the heat of the game, the Quakes aren’t going to peddle back a desire to win to settle for a draw or a loss. It’s more a matter of setting up in the best way possible and managing the game. But while I think the Earthquakes could turn some heads, they aren’t putting any more pressure on themselves in what is an extremely pressure-packed moment already.
What will the lineup and subs look like?
Tommy Thompson said every player was told to be ready to play, and I think the Earthquakes will use something close to the full squad in the tournament. But will Almeyda opt for distinct starting units game to game? Will he keep some of the top players on the bench to bring on during the game? Will he go with the strongest lineup possible against Seattle?
One thing is likely: Almeyda said he plans to take full advantage of the modification to allow for five substitutes per match.
“Players know we’re going to try to use all [five subs], more than anything to try to stay fresh on the pitch...adding to the fact there’s a lot of heat, a lot of humidity and more than anything, because of a lack of football. So in those moments we’re going to try to use the guys who are fresh. The players have really trained well throughout these two weeks. We always have the expectation to have a good tournament and represent San Jose in the best way,” he said.
So expect to see a lot of faces representing San Jose while the Earthquakes are in the tournament.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.