SAN JOSE, Calif. — It was never going to be an easy game for the San Jose Earthquakes. Flying cross-country for a game on turf against the New England Revolution, losers of two straight in blowout fashion, was a disadvantage for a team still finding its way. Add in the emotional turmoil within the Revs locker room following the dismissal of head coach Brad Friedel, and it was anyone’s ballgame Saturday night in Foxborough.
The Earthquakes were feeling good about themselves, especially after four games without a loss and draws in their last two away from Avaya Stadium. But this game was primed for uncertainty, and it felt from the opening whistle that the team to score first would walk away with the result. The Revolution did just that, and they added two more to win comfortably 3-1.
“The truth is, you can’t get too high during the good times and you can’t get too low during the bad times,” Tommy Thompson said last week, warning about any overconfidence heading to New England. The Revolution were wounded, but the firing of Friedel did provide them a boost, and the Quakes felt the sting of losing for the first time in weeks.
The Earthquakes next face the Chicago Fire, a team that is beginning to find its stride after an uneven start to the season. The Fire are built with offense in mind and are among the league leaders in creating goal scoring opportunities. San Jose will be tested, perhaps not as much as it was when LAFC came to Avaya Stadium, and how they rebound from the loss to the Revs will reveal much about the squad’s character.
The takeaways from the Earthquakes 3-1 loss to the Revolution are varied, but each provides a learning experience moving forward.
Mistakes gave Revs momentum
New England interim head coach Mike Lapper had two days to prepare for the Earthquakes, and he kept his game plan as simple as can be. He kept his players organized into their lines, mostly on their own side of the field, and invited the visitors to pass the ball around with little pressure. And when the Quakes ventured forward, the Revs applied a defensive pressure that unsettled their possession on numerous occasions. San Jose rarely found any openings in the final third, and New England stymied every opportunity.
Unable to break through, the Earthquakes perhaps left themselves more vulnerable on defense, and a couple of ill-timed mistakes in the first half gave the Revolution the scoring chances they needed to build what would be an insurmountable lead. Juan Agudelo’s goal in the 18th minute came courtesy of a throw-in the Quakes did not pressure properly, and Cristian Penilla’s finish from the penalty spot was made possible by Teal Bunbury’s ability to get behind San Jose’s defense line.
“It was a game where we maintained control of the game and the first two goals came from our own errors,” head coach Matias Almeyda said in his postgame comments. “After a difficult game of having control, [New England] had a lot of players in the area around the defense and it was very difficult for us.”
The Earthquakes had their best chance of the first half when Danny Hoesen sprinted into space on a counterattack, a play the Dutch striker has been very adept at creating this season in Almeyda’s tactical system, but he could not get a shot off while trying to make space in the box. For the Revs, it was as emotional a lift as the goals scored, even the firing of Friedel, and it gave them all the confidence and momentum they needed on the evening.
“Well, we knew this team was playing poorly, and with a team playing poorly and a change of a head coach, it’s always an advantage for us,” Almeyda added. “I think that after they scored the first goal in the first half, they defended very well.”
Absence of Espinoza
The Quakes had nearly the same starting eleven as they did the weekend before when they beat FC Cincinnati 1-0 in dramatic fashion. Cristian Espinoza, a crucial part of San Jose’s recent resurgence, was red carded in that game, and he did not make the trip to New England as he served a one-game suspension.
Almeyda had options for replacing Espinoza in the midfield, including Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili, the team’s highest paid player, but he went with Eric Calvillo instead, giving the youngster his first start of 2019. The coach moved Shea Salinas to the right side of the formation, with Calvillo starting the game on the left.
The Earthquakes controlled possession with ease, as the Revs allowed them to as part of their own game plan, but their midfield simply wasn’t effective enough on the night. Even with the contributions of Thompson and Nick Lima from the fullback positions, the Quakes never found their rhythm. And at halftime, already down 2-0, Calvillo was subbed out, replaced by Vako.
The visitors needed goals, so the change made sense, and San Jose did look much more dangerous with Vako on the field. The team sacrificed some of its defensive verve as a result of the substitution, further committing to an offensive strategy with the inclusion of Chris Wondolowski at the one-hour mark, but it was the Revs who scored next, extending their lead to 3-0 in the 68th minute on Carles Gil’s tidy finish. Vako added a consolation goal late, but that was all the Quakes attackers could muster.
Espinoza will be available for selection this Saturday when the Earthquakes take on the Chicago Fire, and they will be very happy to see him back in the lineup.
Eye catching debut for Haji
Almeyda’s last substitution of the game saw rookie Siad Haji make his MLS debut as a right winger. The second overall selection in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft was all smiles as he took the field, and he put together a worthy performance in his first professional appearance.
Haji’s story is well chronicled, so it was no surprise that he would rise to the occasion. Growing up in New Hampshire after his family had fled war-torn Somalia and years in a Kenyan refugee camp, he was excited to be able to make his debut in front of many of the people that have meant so much to him in his life in the U.S.
“My emotions were mixed emotions,” Haji said. “Being able to go there and just work hard and just being in front of my family was amazing. Working for the team was just amazing to me.”
Just 19 years old, Haji carries himself with a maturity that belies his age, and since joining the Quakes in the preseason, he’s been a popular member within the team. Against the Revolution, the creative midfielder showed off his skills, pushing matters along the right sideline and keeping the hosts at bay. Sure, New England was already up 3-0 at that point, but that did not dampen his enthusiasm, and he was proud to be on the field when Vako scored in the 88th minute.
“It was good because it shows momentum,” Haji said. “It shows that we can do it. It shows that we are capable of keeping going and scoring. We just worked collectively and just kept going at them.”
It is not clear how many minutes the Generation Adidas signing can expect his rookie season, but Haji will make his contributions in whatever ways he can. He is learning so much from the coaching staff and his fellow teammates in training and in preparation that he knows he’ll be ready for his next call to the field. And in the meantime, he will give his full backing at every opportunity as the Quakes continue the campaign, looking to put the loss to the Revolution behind them.
“I just think we’ve got to keep working and fighting,” Haji said. “Other than that, I’m proud of these guys, I’m proud of everything they have done. Being able to support everybody, one another, especially for the young guys, I think that’s the big key.”