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Go with the Flo: Earthquakes all-purpose defender Florian Jungwirth steps up to help back line

Apr 14, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Florian Jungwirth (23) passes against the Houston Dynamo in the second half at Avaya Stadium. (John Hefti/USA TODAY Sports)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The extended road trip to Orlando and Columbus did not go so well for the San Jose Earthquakes, and now the team returns home searching for answers after dropping two straight games and extending its winless streak to six games.

The losses to the Lions and Crew were both by one goal, increasing the agony felt by Quakes players. Most feel they are very close to making a breakthrough and getting back in the win column.

Florian Jungwirth, who was the team’s most valuable player on the road trip, pitched in as best he could to help a patchwork defensive line dealing with suspensions and ineffectiveness in the early season. On the road trip, he scored two goals against Orlando and had the lone assist against Columbus; unfortunately, it was for naught.

“They were two devastating results, because we wanted to grab points, especially when we had ten days together,” Jungwirth told Pro Soccer USA. “When you fly back with nothing in your pocket, that always hurts.”

Last year’s team defender of the year started the season at his more natural position as a central midfielder, but in recent weeks, he lined up at as a third centerback at the Philadelphia Union, at right back against the Houston Dynamo and, finally, at left back at the Crew. It seems all that is left for Jungwirth is to take a hand at goalkeeper, though he laughed off that suggestion.

The German jock-of-all-trades prefers playing in midfield, but he will do whatever is asked of him by the coaching staff, who he praised for working overtime to get the team as prepared as possible for games. In recent weeks, simple mistakes have doomed the Quakes to losses and dropped points, and Jungwirth knows it is the responsibility of the players to dedicate more time in training to make sure they don’t happen again.

“The coaching staff is literally working 24/7 and doing a lot of preparation,” Jungwirth said. “We as players can do more. We can definitely prepare better, that’s true, because I think, the coaching staff is preparing more than us, to be honest.

“But, yeah, it is hard to say if someone does a bad mistake who is to blame. Everyone knows the game plan, so if you do a bad mistake, it’s hard to say what can be changed in the moment. You can’t look back at it and say we have to change the mentality, because everyone goes into game and wants to win and gives 100 percent, so it’s hard to find it, but still I think every player on this roster has the quality to prevent those mistakes, so I hope we can prevent it. That should be everyone’s claim every time to win games.”

Against Orlando, a sloppy play midway through the second half gave the Lions a breakaway that lead to Sacha Kljestan tapping in a shot from close range to double their lead. The Quakes were caught well out of position on a restart just ahead of the turnover, and they were burned as a result. A week later against the Crew, it was another counterattack goal off a lost possession, this one with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game, that gave the hosts a 2-1 victory.

In both instances, San Jose was pushing forward, trying to create something on offense, when the miscues occured. It has been a familiar pattern for the Earthquakes this season: look compelling at times in the attack, but responding woefully when turning over the ball. For Jungwirth, it is still a case of the team looking for the right balance between surging forward with the ball or in pressing opponents and staying organized in defense.

“We are definitely looking for balance,” Jungwirth said. “Look, we are all clear that the strength is our offense, and we have great players in the offense, so we have to score goals, but I think we can minimize the big chances for the opponents. That’s something we have to improve and we can work on, and the tactical mistakes we sometimes make in transition in games need to be corrected.

“We need to be better organized when we lose the ball. If you look back at the second goal by Orlando, for example, it was a throw-in for us, and their guy got a breakaway almost from the midline. That’s ridiculous, and that can’t happen again. This is something every player has to realize, to always think about the potential dangers and then be ready. I am convinced we will improve that week to week, but obviously we need the results now.”

Moving forward, Jungwirth, coming off of two solid performances, is likely to be starting games as part of the defensive line. His skills, as specialized as they are to play in the midfield, are necessary for the defense as it continues to find its bearings. He shared that the team’s mentality is still strong, but he admitted that everyone on the squad knew what he had to do to reverse the team’s fortunes when the Portland Timbers visit Avaya Stadium this Saturday.

“Now, the most important thing is the mind work,” Jungwirth said. “We are still free in the head and feeling that nothing is bothering us. Still, we need to stick to the game plan and be brave enough to ask for the ball, to help the guys on the field around us when we get into difficult situations. If we can do those things, we can beat Portland.”

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