The Matias Almeyda era did not get off on the right foot over the weekend, as the San Jose Earthquakes dropped their season opener 2-1 to the Montreal Impact, but the new head coach was encouraged by the progress the team displayed in implementing his style of play.
The Quakes controlled possession for long stretches of the game at Avaya Stadium, rarely backing down on their defensive man-marking responsibilities, though that statistic was enhanced by the visitor’s strategy of sitting back in their own half, especially as they preserved their lead over the entire second half. Still, it was a San Jose team playing with more purpose than it had for much of last season.
“I take away a lot of positives from this game, especially the attitude and collective play,” Almeyda said via his translator following the game. “We had possession of the ball a lot in the second half, and during the first half it was 50% or so. This shows a team that wants to be a protagonist, a team that is not going to be left behind waiting for an individual action. Instead, a team that is going to play like a team.”
The Earthquakes outshot the Impact 14-10 and put more of those shots on target, but other than Magnus Eriksson’s early goal, did little to test Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush. Collectively, they took seven shots from inside the area, though none was considered a high-probability scoring opportunity.
Almeyda rallied the squad together to start the new week as he began preparations for the Earthquakes next game, Saturday against Minnesota United. The Quakes have never lost to the Loons, winning all four regular season matchups since the former NASL club joined MLS as an expansion team in 2017. It is a winning streak everyone in San Jose is keen to continue.
Given the soaking rains in the Bay Area this winter, the Quakes have varied their training locales in an effort to preserve the field at their main practice field just outside Avaya Stadium. This week, the team ventured to Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University on Tuesday and to Spartan Stadium in south San Jose on Wednesday — both former homes of the Earthquakes. With the weather forecast to improve ahead of the weekend, the Quakes will train the remainder of the week back on its home field.
Following the Quakes 2-1 season opening loss and again on Wednesday during his midweek press conference, Almeyda emphasized that he is still making adjustments to his tactics as the players continue to grow into their expected roles. His system asks a lot of his wide players, especially, and with 19-year-old Marcos Lopez on one side of the back line and Nick Lima on the other, the coach is carefully monitoring their progress.
“They had, like the rest of the team, good times and more regular times,” Almeyda said on Wednesday. “They are two very young players and above all I like to instill confidence knowing that they can make mistakes, but if we see that they have a lot of potential, we will work with them so they will become more complete.”
Last Saturday, Montreal, content to sit back in a defensive shell and hit back on the counterattack, specifically targeted Lopez’s side of the field, especially to start the game, and the young Peruvian was caught out more than once. Overall, he showed glimpses of skills the Quakes desperately need from the left back position, but Lopez is certain to remain a work in progress.
Overall, Almeyda’s takeaways from the loss, and his subsequent plan for the week remain on the same course he set forth in preseason, and the rookie MLS coach is not concerned about one result in the grand scheme of a 34-game season. He believes better days are ahead for the Earthquakes.
“We remain on our quest to have a distinct style of play,” Almeyda said. “We noticed important things the other day. Through the style of play we seek, offensively and defensively, during the course of the year we will probably win more often that not.”