What to make of the 2021 San Jose Earthquakes six games into their season?
Danielle Slaton, who works on Earthquakes local broadcasts as a color commentator, believes there’s signs of progress but also tough opponents to date and coming up.
“I think they got off to a fast start, and it surprised quite a few people [around the league], which is great,” Slaton told Center Line Soccer during an interview on Thursday. “I think they’re in a stretch right now where competition is steep, right? I mean you go Seattle, Portland, then Kansas City. That’s a tough stretch and even if it’s a club that’s down a little bit, it’s a club that, you know historically has a lot of success. Seattle always seems to be at the top of the table. Same with Kansas City, same with Portland, so even if they’re down at the moment, which Portland was and is, I think you still know that they’re going to be steep competition.
“It’ll be interesting to me to see how the team responds and how they play against Kansas City, because good teams find a way to fix the problem after a loss for two. You don’t often go three, four or five, six games where you’re struggling to get points if you’re a good team, so I’ll be interested to see,” she added.
The Quakes are hosting Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, a rematch of sorts of the playoff matchup last year that ended San Jose’s season. While they’ve been playing pretty well, Slaton points to this game as a critical one for the Quakes’ prospects this year, after losing two games last week.
“I think this game will be very telling and I think the thing I’m most interested in, you always know that the Earthquakes are going to fight under Matias Almeyda, they bring passion, they bring enthusiasm, they bring energy, they bring determination,” she said. “Where I’m curious now is like, what’s the Plan B if something isn’t working? What are the adjustments that might be a little bit different, or are we going to see the same substitution patterns, are we going to see the same style of play, how are the Earthquakes under Matias Almeyda going to continue to evolve and grow?
“You know that Mike Tyson quote, ‘Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face’? The Earthquakes got punched in the face these last two games. Yes, they’ve played and competed but now, what’s that plan B, is there going to be any adjustment and what is that going to be, if needed?” Slaton added.
One interesting component of the team’s journey under Almeyda has been the team ethos. While the coach and players still talk fondly of their trip to Florida for the MLS is Back Tournament to restart the 2020 season, Slaton believes the pandemic set San Jose’s cohesion back somewhat last year overall because of social distancing requirements.
“When you hear Matias talk, when you hear players talk about each other on this Earthquakes team they often use the word, family. Like ‘we are a family, we are cohesive, we are stronger together.’ And the first season that Matias arrived I think they were figuring it out. Then [last year] you get COVID and this idea of cohesiveness and being together and family is really hard because none of us are supposed to be together consistently. So I think they had to really fight through that because that’s kind of the foundation of who they want to be and the character that they bring to each game. I think this year there’s a real opportunity to see that in full force. And I think we’ve seen that in moments, early on already,” she said.
Slaton, of course, is familiar with the sport at an elite level, playing for the U.S. Women’s National Team and earning an Olympic silver medal and World Cup bronze medal in the process, as well as winning a WUSA league title and playing for European women’s powerhouse Lyon.
That background, plus covering the Earthquakes from PayPal Park the past several years, means she’s appreciating the way the team has played each game so far this season.
“One thing that’s just seems so fun this season is even when they lose it’s entertaining soccer. You feel like they could score at any time. You go into a match and they could win 5-4 or lose 1-0, you just don’t know when it comes to the Earthquakes, which for me is really fun and entertaining soccer,” Slaton said.
Still, while the Quakes are playing well, do they have what it takes to really make a step up this year and consistently pick up results? We know nationally there’s still not much attention on San Jose, but Slaton thinks it’s a vital moment for the team.
“I think that maybe part of a little bit of this uncertainty about are they going to be consistently good, are they going to be a team that has to fight to get in the playoffs, or are they going to easily make it to the playoffs, is just the style of play that Matias Almeyda brings,” she explained. “It’s a style that’s played on a knife’s edge in many ways, right? They are going to risk things, they are going to be brave, they are going to be courageous, but they also know that they’re going to concede sometimes and I think they’re okay with that. If they can continue to find a way to build and continue to go forward and to press and to do the things that he wants, but some of that is uncertainty and that ambiguity and the way that they play makes me uncertain of what we’re going to see every week and where they’re going to end up at the end of the year. I do think there are some really, really great pieces. And I just hope that they can continue to build on them over the course of a very long season.”
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