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San Jose Earthquakes look for improvement under new management in 2018

San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Anibal Godoy, left, forward Chris Wondolowski, center, and midfielder Florian Jungwirth celebrate after the Earthquakes beat the Portland Timbers in an MLS soccer match in San Jose, Calif. Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017.

It’s fitting the San Jose Earthquakes will open the 2018 MLS regular season against Minnesota United, the same team they beat 3-2 in dramatic fashion in last year’s season finale to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time in five years.

The Quakes, under the guidance of new head coach Mikael Stahre, look to continue the momentum following an undefeated preseason schedule.

They did not fare well in the postseason last October, getting run off the field in a 5-0 road loss against the Vancouver Whitecaps in the wildcard round, so general manager Jesse Fioranelli cut the fat from the roster and added reinforcements on offense and defense.

Magnus Eriksson, Sweden’s top scorer last season, signed as a designated player during the offseason and joins fellow DP Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili in the Quakes midfield. The pair of potent providers will feed forwards Danny Hoesen and Chris Wondolowski. Uruguayan newcomer Yeferson Quintana and Panamanian World Cup hopeful Harold Cummings will serve as centerbacks this season, as the Quakes look to improve on their embarrassing -21 goal differential in 2017.

Though he is new to San Jose and MLS, Stahre quickly asserted his influence on the team through six weeks of preseason training, and the Swedish coach now has his squad playing with much more organization and confidence. He’s stressed a complete and cohesive match-day strategy, asking all eleven players — from goalkeeper to forwards — be involved in defense when required.

Stahre also showed he will have attackers press opponents at every opportunity, hoping to create more scoring chances for a team that only netted 39 goals last season.

And even if the season gets off to a poor start, there will still be a compelling reason to watch Earthquakes soccer — Wondolowski, the team’s captain and talisman, is 12 goals away from passing the legendary Landon Donovan to become the all-time MLS scoring champion. Wondo has scored in double digits for eight consecutive seasons, and despite recently celebrating his 35th birthday looks as sharp as ever in preseason.

Earthquakes welcome Minnesota United back to Avaya Stadium to kick off 2018

When: March 3, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Avaya Stadium

Broadcast: TV — NBC Sports Bay Area; RADIO — KNBR 1050, 1370 KZSF (Spanish)

Live stream: MLS Live (if applicable)

The buzz:  The same two teams played on Decision Day last October, with San Jose’s Marcos Urena scoring a late goal to secure a 3-2 win over the Loons and send the Quakes to the postseason. The crowd at Avaya Stadium, which opened in 2015, has never been louder than in that moment, and while there won’t be any champagne celebrations after Saturday’s rematch, both teams will be looking for a strong start to the season in 2018.

Other key matches

March 17 at Sporting Kansas City – The Earthquakes first road match of the season will be a test for a team that finished 3-12-2 away from home last season, recording an ignominious -28 goal differential, and is still vetting a new defensive line.

May 5 vs Portland Timbers – The visit of last year’s regular season Best in the West provides the Quakes an opportunity to see the progress Stahre has made with his revamped crew. Last year, San Jose blitzed the Rose City visitors 3-0 behind a brace from Wondolowski. Can he do it again on his march to the MLS record?

June 30 vs LA Galaxy – In what has become the summer showcase for soccer in the Bay Area, the Earthquakes will venture north on the Peninsula to Stanford Stadium for their annual California Clasico against the Galaxy. It was Shea Salinas adding his name to the lore in 2017, as his late goal completed another Quakes comeback win on the Farm.

August 18 vs Toronto FC – The Quakes famously beat the now MLS Cup champions the last time they visited Avaya Stadium, as down two men due to red cards, they overcame a goal by former Earthquakes defender Justin Morrow to score in dramatic fashion in a 2-1 victory. Until last year’s playoff clinching season finale over Minnesota, this game had been the most exciting one played at the three year old facility.

October 28 at Seattle Sounders – If San Jose is going to qualify for the postseason for the second straight year, the season finale at Seattle might be the difference maker. The Quakes have had mixed results at CenturyLink Field, and playing in front of a full house of Sounders fans will make for a very intimidating atmosphere in what is likely to be a must-win match.

Check out the full 2018 schedule here.

Quotes & Notes

The Earthquakes emerged from preseason training with every player fit and ready for their season opener. General manager Jesse Fioranelli assembled the roster even before training began, so the players who will start against Minnesota United, as well as those first off the bench, have had nearly six full weeks to develop under the guidance of new head coach Mikael Stahre.

“We are ready for sure,” Stahre said. “We have played 4-5 games and I am happy with the preseason in general so we are prepared for sure.”

The offense will be spearheaded by Dutch forward Danny Hoesen, who returns to San Jose after scoring 8 goals and providing 5 assists in all competitions last year.

“I feel very strong, very confident,” Hoesen said, “and I have a good connection with the players, and the new players as well. I feel good and I am more than ready.”

In the week leading up to the season opener, Stahre wouldn’t reveal the starting eleven he will use against Minnesota, but following an undefeated preseason schedule of scrimmages and friendlies, the Swedish coach is confident he has the right combination to defeat the Loons.

“There’s always competition, for sure,” Stahre said, “but you know, of course, we have now played four to five games, and, of course, I have some ideas in my mind. You will see on Saturday our starting line-up.”

Biggest offseason moves

  • Hired the aforementioned Stahre as head coach, replacing Chris Leitch, as the club looks for more on-field organization and stability following a turbulent year in San Jose.
  • Acquired defender Joel Qwiberg from IF Brommapojkarna after the 25-year-old helped lead the second division club to promotion to the top-tier Allsvenskan.
  • Signed Swedish scoring champion Magnus Eriksson to a multi-year Designated Player contract. The Swede scored 14 goals and recorded seven assists for Djurgårdens IF in 2017.
  • Traded goalkeeper David Bingham to the LA Galaxy and midfielder Darwin Ceren to the Houston Dynamo as part of a significant player purge.
  • Lost Costa Rican forward Marcos Urena, who scored the famous goal against Minnesota in the season finale that sent the Quakes to the playoffs, to LAFC in the expansion draft.
  • Welcomed 21-year-old center back Yeferson Quintana on a one year loan from Peñarol in the Uruguayan Primera División. If the Uruguayan defender meets expectation, the Quakes have an option to buy his contract at year’s end.

Roster breakdown

Forwards – Quincy Amarikwa, 30; Danny Hoesen, 27; Chris Wondolowski, 35

Midfielders – Fatai Alashe, 24; Eric Calvillo, 20; Magnus Eriksson, 27; Luis Felipe, 22; Gilbert Fuentes, 16; Anibal Godoy, 28; Jahmir Hyka, 29; Florian Jungwirth, 29; Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili, 25; Tommy Thompson, 22; Chris Wehan, 24; Jackson Yueill, 20

Defenders – Francois Affolter, 26; Jacob Akanyirige, 16; Harold Cummings, 26; Nick Lima, 23; Jimmy Ockford, 26; Yeferson Quintana, 21; Joel Qwiberg, 25; Shea Salinas, 31

Goalkeepers – Matt Bersano, 25; JT Marcinkowski, 20; Andrew Tarbell, 24

See full roster details here.

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