San Jose forward Cristian Espinoza said the presence of coach Matías Almeyda was fundamental in his decision to stay with the Earthquakes.
The forward signed a multi-year designated player contract in December after scoring two goals and adding 13 assists in his first season in MLS. After originally acquiring Espinoza on loan, the Earthquakes paid a reported club-record $3 million transfer fee to make his move to the Bay Area permanent.
After taking over the team at the end of 2018, Almeyda flipped a San Jose squad that had finished at the bottom of the Western Conference into a serious playoff contender. San Jose ranked as high as No. 3 in the Western Conference in 2019, finishing just below the postseason cutoff line.
“The change he brought was especially a mental change to the players,” Espinoza said through a translator. “If you look, the team was practically the same from the team in 2018. The soccer richness that Almeyda has brought on is visible and he’s learned to work with each individual’s strength.”
Espinoza approached Almeyda midway through the season and expressed his eagerness to stay with the team and the coach beyond 2019.
The Earthquakes tumbled through a six-game losing streak at the end of the season, but Espinoza said the finish only invigorated his drive to stay with the team and improve in 2020.
“It was a negative and sad feeling,” he said. “Unfortunately, we realized very late in the season that we had let go of a very good chance of qualifying to the playoffs. I think our biggest mistake was we stopped believing that we could qualify. But this year, it will be very different.”