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San Jose Earthquakes happy to ride momentum to clinch knockout round berth

And they feel they’re just getting started.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Chicago Fire Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The San Jose Earthquakes won their MLS is Back Tournament group. Rather easily, too.

After a 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire Sunday wrapped up the top slot in the group for the Quakes with two more results elsewhere yet to be played, the team understandably feels pretty good now.

“First, these three games were important due to this tournament, and also, it’s important for the points for the regular season that was stopped due to the pandemic,” Earthquakes head coach Matias Almeyda said through an interpreter postgame. “Today the players responded in an excellent manner. This makes us happy, our families, and also the people from San Jose that follow us and watch us.”

With San Jose in their best form in about a year, midfielder Jackson Yueill was asked the last time the team felt so confident and he quipped, “Uh, last game,” with a laugh.

“I think we’re just excited to be a team again and playing together now three games is giving us a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum,” Yueill continued. “So we’re just happy to be on the field and we didn’t want this to be the last game for awhile and we want to keep pushing and keep playing together. You can see that everyone has kind of a chip on their shoulder to make it as far as we can and to enjoy ourselves. I think that’s what we’re doing the best of right now.”

Cristian Espinoza broke the dam with the game-winning goal early in the second half, and said that goal gave the team some relief after a tense and testy match up to that point.

“That’s how things played out. We knew it was going to be a game that was hard-fought. That’s what we saw in the first half, and after the first goal, spaces always end up opening up but we had to maintain calm and luckily we were able to get the second [goal],” he said through an interpreter.

San Jose maintained their lead, but iced the game in the 83rd minute, when Chris Wondolowski stepped onto the field and almost immediately scored to make it 2-0.

Almeyda was asked why he opted to go for attacking subs while maintaining a one-goal lead, instead of a more conventional option to bring on defensive substitutes.

“It depends on the game, what we’re experiencing on the bench,” he responded. “But I considered the game still open and we could have ended it, especially with the subs that we made, and fortunately it ended in a positive way.”

With the group stage over and a week to prepare for the first knockout game, Almeyda was asked to assess the Quakes at this point in the season, and the Argentine gave a typically philosophical response.

“I’ll rate them as always: I think it’s a team that grows day by day, a team that’s growing collectively and individually, and a team that looks like they’re enjoying playing football, which is what I’m mostly interested in,” he said.

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