When it came down to either Real Salt Lake or Minnesota United as the San Jose Earthquakes’ opponent in the Round of 16 of the MLS is Back Tournament, many probably figured RSL was the preferred matchup.
With games elsewhere being played to determine the Quakes’ opponent, Minnesota was the team that beat San Jose, badly, at Earthquakes Stadium in the final game before the coronavirus shutdown. So RSL seemed like a better pick on paper.
Head coach Matias Almeyda didn’t weigh in on the either/or proposition, but warned that RSL is not an easy matchup for his team.
“I think in the Round of 16 this is one of the worst teams to face,” Almeyda told reporters through an interpreter on a conference call Saturday. “A team that is compact, their defensive lines are strong, with quality for many of their players who make a difference. They’re good in the air. They have their own style and they know what they play. I think it will be a very hard game. We’ll see if we can figure out their strengths, if we can figure out their defects and from somewhere be able to overcome them.
“We’ve played twice against them and they’ve been difficult games. And this game, because of where we’re at and what we’re playing for, is going to be another hard game. We always respect each opponent, we value them, and obviously we want to move on to the next round and hopefully we’ll be up to that level.”
Defender Oswaldo Alanís, the Earthquakes’ only major signing this season, appeared to struggle with cramps in the opening two games of the tournament and was an unused substitute in the third game.
Alanís said he feels good now and says the conditions are the same fo all teams.
“I feel good. The last game, I did get a chance to rest a bit,” he said through an interpreter. “In terms of being tired I think all the teams in the league are going through that. We’re just trying to focus on rest as much as possible and focusing on the next game here coming up.”
With Monday’s game against RSL being an elimination game, Almeyda was asked how the team has changed their defensive approach, with the team allowing three goals in three games in Orlando, compared to seven in their opening two matches of 2020.
“We’ve worked a lot on mistakes we’ve made, we’ve watched the mistakes we made,” he responded. “For those who study this league, the common denominator is that our team is not the only one who makes defensive mistakes, but most of them do. Whether it’s due to the strikers or from our own mistakes, this doesn’t mean we’ve solved this because there will be more mistakes, and we’ll try to correct them as we go so it does not happen.”
With some more highly touted teams crashing out of the tournament before the knockout stage, Almeyda credits the team ethic built within the Earthquakes and having a proper perspective on the moment.
“I think this team is playing this tournament with a lot of happiness, we’ve created an environment, getting adapted to Disney while remaining serious to focus as the tournament requires, within the professionalism we constantly look for. As a coaching staff, we try to have our players enjoy playing football, especially with the moment the world is living through and with the opportunity that the league gives us to do the work we like to do, which is football,” he said.
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