SAN JOSE, Calif. — The New England Revolution were struggling, having been steamrolled in their previous two games, and it was reported that head coach Brad Friedel had lost the locker room. As the San Jose Earthquakes boarded their cross-country flight to take on the Revs, the situation looked ideal to pick up their first three points on the road this season.
Unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned in Foxborough. The Revolution, who relieved Friedel of his duties, gained an emotional edge heading into the game, and following a pair of Quakes mistakes, took an unlikely 2-0 lead. New England was buoyed by its strong start, and held on for a 3-1 win.
“It was a match that became complicated in the beginning after they scored from mistakes we made,” head coach Matias Almeyda said during his midweek press conference, “but we had several opportunities to tie the match and even win if we had converted the chances we created. We controlled the match, but it became difficult when they stayed back and defended well. Our goal came late in a complicated match.”
The Earthquakes dominated possession, even before going conceding the two first half goals and allowing the Revolution to sit back on defense, but their edge in time on the ball mattered little in the long run, as they were unable to find productive routes to the goal. The Quakes played with patience, knocking the ball around their defensive line with ease, but they looked uncertain about how to match it with their offensive effort.
“We started off the game a little slow, a little hesitant, and you could tell we weren’t comfortable on the ball,” midfielder Jackson Yueill said this week. “Maybe it was the travel, maybe it was the turf, so it took us a while to get into the game, and by the time we were in the game, we were already down and trying to catch up. I don’t think we necessarily played a bad game, but I think we started playing well too late in it.”
Yueill was one of the bright spots for the Earthquakes in Foxborough, as he has been in seven straight starts beginning in game five of the season. San Jose had lost the four previous games by a cumulative score of 14-2, and Almeyda turned to Yueill, who he sees as a midfielder with plenty of potential for the Quakes and beyond.
“He’s one of the players with the brightest futures in this league, especially being born the United States,” Almeyda said. “I like his personality a lot. In terms of soccer, he is very complete, and I see a big European future for him. He’s a player that trains very well, and when he plays in games, he plays the same way he trains. He plays well in training sessions, friendly matches, and in easy and difficult matches. He always plays with the same effort, and it shows that he is a national team player.”
Such high praise for Yueill, who turned 22 earlier this season and is also getting a serious look with the U.S. U-23 men’s national team, is not surprising, as the Generation Adidas signing was expected to make a successful transition to MLS from his college days at UCLA. The Quakes top pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, he had sporadic opportunities to get himself in the starting lineup in his first two seasons, but he didn’t stick. Yueill’s vision as a creative passer was never in question, but his commitment to defense was an oft-cited criticism.
That was the first aspect of Yueill’s game that Almeyda looked to improve, and to his credit, Yueill responded with an offseason training regime that prepared him for the way his new Earthquakes coach wanted him to play.
“We do a lot of reversible drills, and I always say that I want to be a coach that makes a player more complete,” Almeyda said. “That’s the job I think coaches have. Players get to the first division because they play well, not because they know everything, so there is still a large margin for him to improve on. In his case, he is taking advantage of that. He’s a player that is recovering a lot of balls, he is very dynamic, he has a good shot, and you’ll see why I play him, I like him.”
Yueill is enjoying the opportunity, and it is clear, whether you use the eye test or his stats line to judge, he is now having his best games ever in his professional career. Yueill is tasked with a central midfielder role that allows him the freedom to connect with the attacking players but also requires him to cover his mark defensively when the opponent has the ball. Anibal Godoy, his partner in the center of Almeyda’s formation, shares the same responsibilities, and the pair have made for a potent combination for the Quakes.
“Yeah, I think it is important for everyone, because the league demands it, especially how we play,” Yueill said. “You really have to be able to go box-to-box, every single player, and then win your one-on-ones, your duels. The coaches really emphasized being able to do that. And it took a while, obviously, but I think this year I’ve been doing a different job in the gym and on the training pitch to be able to do it on Saturdays.”
The Earthquakes are 3-2-2 since Yueill’s first start of the season, an impressive 3-0 win against the Portland Timbers back on April 6. He has scored one goal during that seven game span, the first of his MLS career, and added an assist as well. But it is his passing numbers, especially in transition, that have impressed most, and Almeyda wants to encourage him to increase his efficiency even further.
“With the continuity and minutes, he should just keep on playing,” Almeyda said. “Mentally, to want to keep growing and not just plateau with what he’s achieved. The worst thing he can do is just plateau because he has a teammate that will take his spot. But I consider him a very intelligent person. I’ve already spoke with him, that will not happen.”
Yueill doesn’t appear to want that outcome either, and the third year pro plans on keeping his developmental momentum going. For the Earthquakes today, and perhaps a lucky European team in the future, Yueill is an indispensable part of the team.