SAN JOSE, Calif. — Four games into the 2018 Major League Soccer season, the San Jose Earthquakes have only collected four points — a pace not sustainable for a team that aspires to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs for the second straight year.
The players have been full healthy to start the season, so head coach Mikael Stahre has been able to set up his lineup and formation in a manner that should play to the squad’s strength. The Quakes featured the same starting XI the first three games. Stahre made one change for game 4 against the Philadelphia Union.
“When we look at the first four games, we have made some small, small changes so far,” Stahre said. “Now, the coaching staff knows the players more, we know MLS more, we know the opponents more, and we can expect to play hard games every weekend. Of course, I am open to change formations. I’m open to change some players, and I think that’s necessary to win games. It’s necessary also to keep the team warm and also keep up the energy level. But the most important thing is to find ways to win the next game.”
The Earthquakes won their first game of the year, a 3-2 decision against Minnesota United, before dropping two straight against Sporting Kansas and New York City FC. They broke their losing streak with a 1-1 tie at the Philadelphia Union, as marquee offseason signing Magnus Eriksson scored his first MLS goal. San Jose now prepares for this weekend’s match against the visiting Houston Dynamo at Avaya Stadium.
“We have worked on different formations, so we will see what’s going to be best on Saturday,” Eriksson said. “We have a great squad and a good number of great players, so whatever fits the formation and the team is important. It is up to Mikael to come up with the best lineup that is going to win the game for us this Saturday.”
Since returning to the Bay Area earlier this week, Stahre has used the team’s training sessions to the fullest. He’s tried out different combinations of players on defense and on offense as he looks for the right balance that can get the Quakes back on track. Stahre won’t have the services of starting centerback Harold Cummings, who was a late ejection in the game against the Union, but the rest of the squad is healthy and available.
“It’s hard for the coach right for the moment,” Stahre said. “We have many good players and all of them are fit. In soccer, you can expect to have some players injured, and we are, knock on wood, very happy with our situation for the moment.”
Without Cummings, the Quakes will likely turn to backup defender Francois Affolter, who has yet to make an appearance this season after joining San Jose last summer. Florian Jungwirth, a central midfielder that played centerback for the Earthquakes last season and dropped into that role in the second half against Philadelphia, remains another option. Stahre declined to name Cummings’ replacement in the build up to Saturday’s game against Houston.
“It’s up to the coaching staff and the players to find a way so that we can play our game and use our qualities,” the Earthquakes coach said.
One player that will start against the Dynamo is second-year defender Nick Lima, one of only four Quakes players to feature every minute so far this season. The right fullback is a workhorse for San Jose on both sides of the ball, and he is encouraged by the developments the team is making early in the season. Playing every week after dealing with the lulls in intensity created by two separate bye weeks last month will help too, especially as the team becomes more familiar with Stahre’s tactical plan.
“Implementing the new tactics the way he has introduced them, we have a lot to work off of now from the last two games,” Lima said. “The one in Philly didn’t go the way we wanted it to. Yes, we got the point, but we want to get three in those situations. We’re heading up right now and it’s easy to see, day by day and each practice and game, we are getting better.”
Whether Stahre goes with a simple adjustment to his starting lineup, replacing the suspended Cummings and keeping the rest of the formation the same, or makes more wholesale changes remains to be seen. The Quakes coach did make it clear that he looks at what his own players can accomplish first before worrying too much about the team they will face. For the game against Houston, that’s his mindset, first and foremost.
“In general, we try to play our game first, then we have an opponent to play against,” Stahre said. “Sometimes you can perform better and end up with zero points, and sometime you can play poorly and still take points, so it’s nice now to play every week without bye weeks, I am very happy about that, and we are optimistic, but we have to play a much better game than we did against Philly.”
Listen to full audio of Mikael Stahre’s post training interview here: