SAN JOSE, Calif. — The heat has returned to the Bay Area, and with it the return to Major League Soccer action for the San Jose Earthquakes. Following another bye week on the early season MLS calendar, the Quakes welcome New York City FC to Avaya Stadium this weekend, and the team can’t wait to get back to action.
“The real league starts now,” Earthquakes head coach Mikael Stahre said this week. “First, we prepared for six weeks for Minnesota, and it was an okay performance. We had a bye week, then it was a hard away game against Kansas, as well as a friendly with Leon.”
The Quakes have played only two league games in the first month of the season, winning at home against Minnesota United before falling on the road at Sporting Kansas City. Stahre was pleased to have two separate bye weeks to work with, but he knows that only regular games will help his team develop a rhythm, something that has been lacking thus far.
“Still now, we are working on the whole picture,” Stahre said. “The pressing from the strikers, the pressing from the midfielders: defending is not just to protect the last 20 yards of the field. It’s about the whole picture, so we are working on that.”
San Jose was missing some of its key players over the last week, as starters Anibal Godoy and Harold Cummings were on international duty with Panama, and Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili was hammering home golazos with Georgia. Stahre expects all three will be available to play against NYCFC on Saturday at Avaya Stadium, kick off at 5:00 p.m. Pacific time.
“Sometimes as a coach, you want to keep your players here, but there is an advantage for them to go to their home countries and play,” Stahre said. “Because it is so early in the season, they need minutes, they need to play at the highest levels, so we’ll see about them playing on Saturday. I count on them, and it is always the coach’s decision to pick the best team.”
New York City FC arrives in the Bay Area tied for the best record in MLS, and the team features formidable forward David Villa among its attacking players. The Quakes have already proven that their offense it going to light up the scoreboard, but they haven’t yet found the key to keeping opponents from doing the same. Playing at home, says San Jose’s coach, could prove to be a big difference maker.
“First of all, it is really important to enjoy the game,” Stahre said. “We are playing a good team in a fantastic stadium, and it will probably be sold out. Then also, for me, we must believe in ourselves. We have scored five goals in two games, and that’s good. But from another perspective, we have conceded five goals. We have to handle them, we have to defend in a proper way, but most of all, we have to trust ourselves.”
Listen to full audio of Mikael Stahre’s post training interview here:
Hoesen ready for NYCFC challenge
One player that is definitely looking forward to this weekend’s game is forward Danny Hoesen, who, along with Vako, is the Quakes leading scorer this season with two goals. The Dutch born striker took a knock against Sporting KC, but he ruled himself fit and ready to play against New York City, an opponent that he believes San Jose matches up with well.
“We discussed their strengths and weaknesses,” Hoesen said. “But I always like to play teams like that, teams that want to play football, because on the ball they are good, but that leaves spaces for yourself to play. I think if we can handle their pressure and play our normal game like we do at home, it should be a fun game.”
The two teams have met only once at Avaya Stadium, a game that ended in a scoreless draw back in 2016, due in part to neither side having its full complement of players. This time around, the Quakes will be at full strength and NYCFC are expected to field a top-shelf starting eleven. The bigger challenge for San Jose will be to bounce back after the 3-2 loss at Sporting KC, one in which the team too easily capitulated to the hosts. Hoesen hopes the Quakes rebound with a better effort in Saturday’s nationally televised game on ESPN2.
“Of course, for me, Kansas is a fantastic team,” Hoesen said. “They played a strategy that just works. Everyone is on the right spot, they have a great midfield, and sometimes you get those opponents. New York is going to be similar, so it’s going to be a new challenge. On the ball, we didn’t do enough in Kansas, and hopefully we will do more on Saturday.”
The bye week provided Hoesen and his teammates ample time to dissect their effort in Kansas City, and the consensus opinion seems to be that improving their on-field organization will prevent the types of open scoring opportunities Sporting, and the Loons the game before, took advantage of in totaling five goals in two games.
“We can score goals every game, and if we can make sure our defense stays compact as a team and not concede as much space, we are going to win games,” Hoesen said. “It’s not that people are pointing fingers, but everybody is trying to help one another.”
Listen to full audio of Danny Hoesen’s post training interview here: