SAN JOSE, Calif. — It’s been 173 days and counting since the San Jose Earthquakes have earned a win at Avaya Stadium: a shocking, but all too illustrative, statistic that encapsulates the struggles of their 2018 season.
However, after earning a comeback draw against Toronto FC last weekend, a game the numbers suggest they should have won, the Quakes are confident they are on track to break their home winless streak. They face the Vancouver Whitecaps this Saturday with a chance to do just that.
“It’s good to be at home,” head coach Mikael Stahre said this week at training. “We looked at the previous game, and it was easy to see we are improving in everything, actually, We are creating more chances, we conceded fewer chances, and the energy was better. Now we have to finish our chances and put the ball into the net.”
San Jose peppered TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono with 18 shots, but only Chris Wondolowski was able to find the back of the net in the 1-1 draw. According to the expected goals metric (xG), which translates the likelihood a given shot will result in a goal, the Quakes should have scored at least one, maybe two, more goals against the defending MLS Cup champions. They didn’t.
“Everybody can see that,” Jahmir Hyka told Pro Soccer USA. “The games are better for us, and we are creating more and more chances. Now, we just have to score them and we can finish the games earlier.”
A big change for the Earthquakes has been the introduction of Guram Kashia to the squad. The Georgian international centerback, who moved to San Jose from Vitesse in the Dutch top division, has stabilized a defensive line that was shipping more than two goals a game in the first half of the season. With Kashia in the starting lineup, the Quakes earned their first shutout of the season, and can give the attackers more liberty to play higher up the field.
“We have a good organization in the team now,” Hyka continued, “and we are compact in defense also. We have many players that are combining well together, so that has helped us a lot.”
With Kashia’s preferred centerback partner Harold Cummings expected to miss at least two more games with a thigh injury, Stahre is likely to pair the Georgian with Florian Jungwirth. The duo performed well together against Toronto, and the coach hopes they can do the same this weekend against Vancouver at Avaya Stadium.
Stahre will also be without the services of left back Shea Salinas, who was suspended an additional game by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for his flagrant foul in the Quakes’ previous game at Colorado. Joel Qwiberg, who made only his second MLS start against TFC, is expected to line up against the Whitecaps.
At the top of the formation, Danny Hoesen will likely lead the charge as the team’s lone forward, with Valeri Qazaishvili playing just beneath him. Hoesen, whose ten goals this season are tops on the team, has not scored in over two months, and he is eager to get his name back on the scoresheet, especially as the offense is showing more effectiveness of late.
“Yeah, I want to go back to scoring again,” Hoesen told Pro Soccer USA, “but it is important to realize that we are playing better as a team right now. It looks better and it gives us a good feeling. We just want to win as many games as possible now. We know the playoffs, yeah, there’s no chance we’re going to make that, but if you win a game, it is a much better environment and atmosphere in the group.”
Wondolowski, who scored the Quakes’ lone goal last weekend after subbing in for Hoesen, will likely continue his role on the bench. With ten games remaining in the season, Wondo is only four goals away from tying Landon Donovan on the all-time MLS scoring list. His pursuit of that record, as much as it would mean for himself and the club, will have to come as a substitute.
In the game against Toronto, Wondo only played the last half hour of the game, but he was the most energetic and vocal player on the field. Stahre noted the captain’s influence on the game, but he added that planning a strategy centered solely on getting him the record wasn’t prudent. He expects the chances will come for Wondo if the team effort continues its current track of improvement.
As for breaking the brutally long spell of winless performances at Avaya Stadium, where the Quakes are only 1-5-4 in ten games this season, the coach is making it his priority to get the best team on the field. The players have responded to the message by continuing to train hard, even knowing the playoffs are out of the question, and they in turn want to reward the fans that continue to come out to watch them play.
“For sure,” Hoesen said. “They are still showing up every game and they are still supporting us. For us, it gives us a much better feeling if after the game we thank them with a win and see them happy again. Definitely, we want to win for them, and let’s do that for them this Saturday.”
“Our goal is to win as many of these games as possible,” Hyka added. “All of us will play harder, and at home, we want to give our fans some joy and happiness, so I hope we can win these next two games.”
The first 24 games of 2018 yielded just three wins, and the Quakes by far have the lowest points per game mark in MLS. Still, their recent form and the prospects of finishing the season on a high note bring the team encouragement. To their credit, coaches and players are not throwing in the towel and simply going through the motions. They know they owe the fans, and themselves, much more.
“The last five games, we have been much better, so I am happy with the progress,” Stahre said. “But it’s hard to open the app and look at the standings. I can just focus on the upcoming games, otherwise you can get mad or sad or depressed. You have to keep looking forward.”
When: August 18, 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time
Where: Avaya Stadium, San Jose, CA.
Broadcast: NBC Sports Bay Area, KNBR 1050
Live Stream: ESPN+
Suspended: Shea Salinas
Earthquakes injury report: Out: Kevin Partida (knee); Harold Cummings (thigh)