SAN JOSE, Calif. — As the San Jose Earthquakes prepare for the first California Clasico of the season, they know there are important lessons to learn from the first 11 games of the season.
The Quakes have only two wins so far, both against Minnesota United, and they are coming off a disappointing home loss to DC United, The opportunity to get on track when they face the L.A. Galaxy at StubHub Center Friday night is a welcome one throughout the squad, especially as it comes against their biggest MLS rival.
“Yeah, we want to stay positive,” Earthquakes defender Jimmy Ockford said. “It happens. We had a slow start, but the most important thing is coming back from that and staying positive.”
Ockford is new to the rivalry, but he knows how important the game is to fans and players on both sides. After featuring at San Jose’s USL affiliate Reno 1868 FC last season, the Quakes signed him to a first-team contract in December. Before that, he split time with the Seattle Sounders and on loan with the New York Cosmos of the NASL.
Ockford, 25, learned a lot in his years playing in the lower divisions and has used those lessons to help him prepare for his current role: starting centerback for the Earthquakes. But the Quakes have surrendered 22 goals in 11 games — the second highest goals-per-game average in the Western Conference behind Real Salt Lake — and Ockford knows it is on him and his teammates to make amends.
“We need to have more focus,” Ockford said. “That’s all it takes. Lapses of the mind lack focus. It’s an easy fix, and hopefully we get better as the season goes one. Hopefully by the next game.”
The team’s elder, Chris Wondolowski, 10 years Ockford’s senior and himself a late bloomer in MLS, has seen it all in San Jose. He knows the team has to work out kinks to find a winning formula. Though he is no longer a fixture in the starting lineup, he still retains a perspective that takes in the big picture of the Quakes’ shaky situation, and he remains hopeful that San Jose’s start to the season, its worst since 2009, can be overcome.
“I really do feel that we are going to regroup and put together a game plan and execute the game plan better,” Wondolowski said.
Head coach Mikael Stahre has not been afraid to make changes to his formation and tactics, sometimes on a game-by-game basis. A week ago, it was a switch to a five-man back line. He looked to Ockford to bolster a defense that was too often punished by opposing attackers, playing the Pennsylvania native centrally, flanked by Florian Jungwirth and Harold Cummings. The formation has allowed the Quakes’ wingbacks to get further up the field, but it leaves the back line vulnerable in the middle. It is a gamble by Stahre, but one that Ockford is ready to take on.
After making a single MLS appearance in his first four years as a professional, Ockford is thankful for the opportunity to contribute to the Earthquakes. A converted forward who finished his college career as a defender, he is still growing as a player and learning the nuances of playing centerback. Through it all, he has retained a positive attitude that has served him well during his development.
“It’s always fun to go out there out play,” Ockford said. “You’ve got to enjoy it every game, whether you are down or up, doesn’t matter, just go out and have fun and the results will come.”
The Earthquakes hope the results come sooner rather than later, especially if they want to avoid falling further behind in the standings. Heading into Friday night’s Cali Clasico, San Jose sits only four points behind the Galaxy in the standings, and a win could propel the team to within one victory of the top six in the conference. If, instead, LA takes the points, the Quakes might end this week with the worst record in the league.
The Galaxy are not exactly dominant at home. Like the Quakes, they also have three losses, tied for worst in the West. LA has played five times at StubHub Center, winning its first two games on home turf, including on Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s MLS debut, when the Swede scored twice in dramatic fashion to help LA complete a 4-3 comeback win over LAFC. However, the Galaxy are 0-3-0 at home since, though there is a caveat to those results, as all three losses came against the top three teams in MLS: the New York Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City, and Atlanta United.
The Galaxy will be without Ibrahimovic when they face the Quakes, as the striker was shown a red card following a video assistant referee’s review in LA’s last game. Still, the team knows that as much as they have to be prepared for its opponent, everyone needs to take the initiative to do everything possible to defeat LA.
“We’ve got to beat them,” Wondolowski said. “That’s one thing that I love about this club is that anytime we’ve had our backs against the wall we do come out swinging. That’s all you can really ask for.”
When: May 25, 8:00 p.m. Pacific Time
Where: StubHub Center, Carson, CA
Broadcast: UniMas, KNBR 1050
Live Stream: Twitter
Earthquakes injury report: Out: Jahmir Hyka (ankle); Questionable: Yeferson Cummings (ankle), Eric Calvillo (knee), Quincy Amarikwa (ankle)