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San Jose Earthquakes still need to crack Minnesota United, but they’re staying loose

Lighthearted Almeyda talks quarterfinal showdown.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes Training Handout Photo-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The San Jose Earthquakes are gearing up for an opponent they haven’t beaten over the last two years, but head coach Matias Almeyda was loose during his time with reporters via conference call Thursday afternoon.

Ahead of Saturday’s MLS is Back Tournament quarterfinal clash against Minnesota United, Almeyda laughed in responding to several questions and at one point when asked what needs to change this time against Minnesota, deadpanned, “I think the key will be to not allow goals.”

Whether he was in an especially good mood, or he has full confidence in his Earthquakes side, Almeyda is ready for a change against the Loons.

“We’re watching the game we played during the season where we were outplayed. And surely this game will be different, that’s what we hope for,” he said with a laugh via interpreter.

Attacker Cristian Espinoza, who has been enjoying a stellar tournament so far in Orlando, said the previous meeting against Minnesota this year, a 5-2 shellacking that came just prior to the coronavirus shutdown in March, had a good gameplan but with bad execution on the day.

“I think the previous game, earlier this year, was a reflection of what we’ve been doing, which is taking shots and trying to score goals,” Espinoza said through an interpreter. “Unfortunately, we were not able to score all the shots we took. However, we need to approach this new game on Saturday with the same intensity and energy that we’ve been doing, and we’re just hopeful we’re able to complete the touches and the goals in the final third and be able to win the game.”

The Quakes are favored in the betting odds, following the bookmakers’ confidence in them throughout the tournament to date, but somewhat peculiar in light of that heavy defeat in March. Almeyda agreed maybe the odds are a bit skewed.

“We’re never more or less than anybody, so I don’t ever consider us to be favorites before playing. We carry ourselves with great calm. We always respect each opponent, we like to be respected. There’s a precedent where they’ve scored five goals on us, so maybe they should be the favorites, not us,” he said, chuckling.

Defender Nick Lima admitted he appreciates the Quakes getting positive attention around the country in a way they haven’t for some time, but that being considered a favorite or an underdog doesn’t really change the team’s approach internally.

“I think I’d be lying if I said it’s not nice to get a little recognition, but as far as changing the mindset, no,” Lima said. “We have to come out with that mindset that we are the underdogs to continue having that chip on our shoulder in games that I think is part of our identity, in the San Jose culture from the past until now, that never say die [attitude]. It is something we’ll always hold as part of our values and it doesn’t change a whole lot. We approach the game the same way. We go forward with the intention of winning that game, one game at a time, next step’s Minnesota. As we go in the tournament, there will be more focus towards us, but that just makes us become more disciplined and stick to our game plan in the same way.”

What does Almeyda expect on Saturday? Another difficult match, and another game where he wants the Earthquakes’ run to continue.

“I think it will be a hard game like they all are for us. I think it will take a lot of necessary precautions to avoid a lot in their favor. We’ll try to play our game, but we know we’re up against an opponent that’s beat us several times,” Almeyda said.

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