Mar 3, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes celebrate after the score against the Minnesota United during the second half at Avaya Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
SAN JOSE — It was déjà vu all over again for the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium, as the hosts secured a 3-2 victory over Minnesota United in the Major League Soccer season opener for both teams.
The scoreline was the same the last time the two teams played, the 2017 regular season finale, when the Earthquakes (1-0-0, 3 points) scored a dramatic stoppage time goal against the Loons (0-1-0, 0 points) to book their place in the MLS Cup playoffs.
The stakes were a bit lower for Saturday’s rematch, but that did not dampen the enthusiasm of the 18,000 fans in attendance who came to see the new-look Quakes win their fourth straight home opener in as many seasons as two goals from Danny Hoesen and another from Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili held up to Kevin Molino’s late brace.
“We followed the plan,” Earthquakes head coach Mikael Stahre said, “but when we conceded two goals in the second half, it was hard. We can’t forget we took three points in the opening game, and that’s number one.”
After scoring five goals all of last season, Hoesen said throughout the preseason that he wanted to improve on that total in 2018. After just one game, he already is seeing the difference.
“It is nice as a striker to get those numbers,” Hoesen said. “You want to score a lot of goals and help the team. To start with two is promising.”
For the visitors, it was encouraging to make the game close at the end, but a loss is still a loss, and to avoid falling behind by such a large margin is something Minnesota will need to improve on ahead of their next game.
“We kept going and we didn’t give in,” Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath said. “It’s very easy to give in at three-nil. You can shut up shop and back off and play safe, but we didn’t. We kept trying to go forward and get the right people in the right spots, and with the score 3-2, you’re still in with a shout at the end.”
San Jose’s starting line-up featured three players making their MLS debuts, including the centerback duo of Harold Cummings and Yeferson Quintana, but it was new Designated Player Magnus Eriksson who shined the brightest in his first league appearance.
“We were controlling the game, so to make it this nervous when you are up three goals, it feels so unnecessary,” Eriksson said. “But it was so nice that we took three points. That was the most important thing. It is always nice to win the first game.”
The Quakes broke open the game just before the half-hour mark when first Hoesen and then Vako found the back of the net for San Jose. Both goals came as a result of San Jose turning on the pressure on the Minnesota defense, creating turnovers in the attacking half.
The first goal came off a give-and-go between the Hoesen and Vako, with the Dutch striker finishing from the top of the box after the Georgian midfielder delivered a slide-rule pass. Vako doubled the lead one minute later after sweeping home Chris Wondolowski’s cross at the far post.
With the Loons on the ropes, the Quakes pushed forward to extend their lead. Quintana, playing up on a corner kick, nearly made it three goals before halftime when he directed a shot with his belly off the post.
The third goal came in the 59th minute when the potent pairing of Hoesen and Vako combined for another slick move at the top of the box. Wondolowski’s preseason favorite to win the MLS Golden Boot, Hoesen snapped a shot low and past the diving Matt Lampson to make it 3-0 Earthquakes.
But Minnesota didn’t give up, and when forward Molino scored two goals three minutes apart in the game’s dying moments, the capacity crowd at Avaya Stadium became restless.
San Jose was forced to call on hands on deck to play defense for the game’s closing minutes, but they stayed organized enough to see out the 3-2 victory, a result that pleased Wondolowski.
“Absolutely, it is always vital to get off to a good start, especially with a new coaching staff,” Wondolowski said. “Everything they are preaching and you are working on, to see it all come to fruition is always nice to see it result in three points. Obviously there is some stuff we can work on, but all in all, it was great to great three points to begin the season.”
The Quakes are off next weekend before resuming play on March 17 when they face Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park.