SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Earthquakes are no longer pushovers, and they entered their game against Minnesota United brimming with confidence. But a lack of finishing was their undoing, and the Quakes dropped a disappointing 3-1 decision to the Loons.
Just as they had accomplished the week before against the Houston Dynamo, the Quakes arrived in St. Paul seeking revenge for a loss to MNUFC earlier this season. However, it wasn’t meant to be, and their six-game unbeaten streak came to an end.
Defender Tommy Thompson scored the lone goal for San Jose, but it wasn’t enough to see the Earthquakes drop their second straight to Minnesota. The Quakes are now 4-2-0 all-time against the 2017 MLS expansion team.
Allianz Field a fortress
Since opening their new soccer specific stadium earlier this year, Minnesota United has lost only once in front of their home fans. Their 3-1 against the Quakes improved their record to 5-1-3 at Allianz Field, and opposing teams are realizing the Loons are no pushovers in the facility.
“I was expecting a tough match,” Earthquakes head coach Matias Almeyda said. “We studied our opponent, knowing they beat us at home, they have great players, great system of play. We knew it would be a match to fight for in the midfield and that’s where we lost. Then we had a great effort by our players and I’m very proud of them.”
MNUFC entered the night one point behind San Jose in the Western Conference standings, and by taking all three points on offer, leapfrogged the visitors into fourth place in the table. The Quakes, on the other hand, dropped to eighth, one spot below the playoffs line, after starting the day in fifth.
The famed Wonderwall of Minnesota supporters was in full voice throughout the balmy evening, and though the Quakes outplayed the Loons for significant stretches of game, they rarely were able to silence them. The visitors looked in no way fazed by the strong home support, but they also knew they’d have few friends cheering them on.
“It’s going to be like that on the road,” midfielder Magnus Eriksson said. “They have their home fans in the stands, that’s normal. We try to do everything we can to win the game, but as I said we have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to how we executed the game. We wanted three points.”
The Quakes certainly didn’t play like a visiting team, forcing their will on the game and outshooting the Loons 27 to 13. Minnesota’s centerback tandem of Ike Opara and Michael Boxall made it tough on San Jose’s attackers all evening, and as a whole the defense blocked 10 Earthquakes shots. Goalkeeper Vito Mannone made seven saves, most in comfortable fashion on shots right at him, to ensure the victory.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of creativity,” Almeyda said. “We had 17 shots and we couldn’t finish.”
It was always going to be tough to play at full capacity following two games last week, but the Earthquakes made no excuses for the loss in Minnesota. They had their chances, but they simply failed to capitalize.
“That’s what I love about this team this year, whether we are at home or away, we want to put teams on the back foot,” Thompson said. “That showed today. We were unfortunate not to get a couple more goals there, but that’s soccer.”
Just as he scripted it
Thompson had a very busy night at Allianz Field, both the target of many Minnesota forays into the attacking third down his defensive flank, but also in venturing forward to assist the Quakes offense. His role as a right back in Almeyda’s system demands such two-way play, and Thompson is growing more and more comfortable in the role with every game.
One thing the midfielder has not done, however, is get on the scoresheet with any consistency. Entering the 2019 season, his sixth in MLS, Thompson had only one goal to his name. After his deflected shot found the back on the net last Saturday in the Cali Clasico and a fortunate rebound off his chest equalized the score in first half stoppage time at Minnesota, Thompson now has tripled his career mark.
Both goals were not pure strikes on goal, but the fortuitous deflections that played a vital role are extenuating circumstances that won’t appear on the scoresheet, and that’s something Thompson isn’t likely to give a second thought. After all, it’s not the style that matter: it’s simply the result.
“We have a couple different set pieces that we work on,” Thompson said. “Magnus and Cristian [Espinoza] can both whip a great ball in. We get a lot of guys in the box for a reason and I’m glad it paid off on that play.”
The Quakes original Homegrown Player signing is heating up, having now scored the team’s last two goals, and the promise, playing Almeyda’s system, is for even more.
Playing to the final whistle
There were very few lulls in the action in Wednesday’s game, with both the Loons and Quakes taking turns controlling the ball, though the visitors enjoyed a significant possession advantage, 64.1% to 35.9%. And much of that wasn’t meaningless possession either, especially in the second half following Boxall’s go ahead goal in the 52nd minute.
“We are working hard every week,” Eriksson said. “The way we are playing at the moment we are causing a lot of problems for our opponents. We feel confident in the way we play and hopefully we can bounce back and take three points on Saturday.”
The Quakes finally tally of 27 shots was the most taken in a single game in nearly five years. On August 16, 2014, San Jose challenged FC Dallas with 25 shots, the same number they took against the LA Galaxy in last week’s 3-0 Cali Clasico win. Wednesday’s performance in St. Paul, while lacking in goals, did not lack for effort. According to Opta’s expected goals model, San Jose had 2.30 xG to Minnesota’s 1.96 xG.
“I liked the team we put out,” Almeyda said. “I’m liking this team a lot. At the start of the season we were the team everyone wanted to play, now no one wants to play against us. We’re growing.”
Still, the loss was disappointing, especially given the lopsided statistics, but the Earthquakes won’t have long to dwell on the result. San Jose returns home to face Real Salt Lake at Avaya Stadium on Saturday. The Utah side has won two in a row, both by shutout, and sits a point above the Quakes in the standings. The focus now will all be on RSL.
“We put this one in the back pocket and we move on,” Thompson said. “We have an important game against Real Salt Lake in a couple days.”