SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Earthquakes have had a week to digest a disappointing road trip to New England, and they’ll look to learn from that experience when they host the Chicago Fire on Saturday afternoon at Avaya Stadium.
The Quakes couldn’t solve the Revolution riddle in Foxborough, unable to break down a resolute defensive team while giving up a few scoring chances of their own. It resulted in a well-chronicled 3-1 loss and the end of their four game unbeaten streak.
Chicago presents a different challenge for San Jose, as the Fire are built with offensive in mind, but still sound on defense. They’ve won two in a row, including a 5-0 demolishing of New England that resulted in Brad Friedel’s dismissal as head coach, and have posted three straight clean sheets. But the Fire arrive at Avaya Stadium missing two key components to its success.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, the leader of Chicago’s back line, is suspended for the game, and newly acquired Designated Player Nicolas Gaitan, a playmaking threat, was injured in the Fire’s last game, a 2-0 dismantling of Minnesota United. The much anticipated CleganeBowl esque rematch between Basti and Earthquakes defender Florian Jungwirth, the two Bundesliga imports, will have to wait.
“Regarding their players, we’ll have to wait until the last moment to see if it is true that they will not play,” head coach Matias Almeyda shared this week. “One is suspended and I believe the other player is injured, but that topic only concerns them. They are two key players, but they have a great roster, nonetheless. We are preparing for the team we may face, and we are looking at the game we just played. We committed the same mistakes we made at the beginning of the season, but we still played a great match.”
The Earthquakes, meanwhile, will be at full strength, as midfielder Cristian Espinoza returns from a one game suspension and the injury list is clear for the first time all season. Almeyda will have his entire roster to work with and a week’s worth of training sessions to have the players ready to face the surging Fire.
“In reality, we have to quickly get back up from our defeat especially since we were just improving,” Almeyda added. “We know the team we are facing is difficult. They have dangerous and important players in every line, but we still believe in our game and in what we can accomplish against this opponent and we are confident it will be a great spectacle and we will try to earn three points.”
A key goal during the week was to get his team back in the same page when it comes to the effectiveness of its transitions into the attacking third. Almeyda lamented that aspect of the game in New England, and the players agree that more needs to be done to take advantage of the opportunities that come on the break, especially in the aggressive defensive system they employ.
“One of our strengths is recovery of the ball and being able to counter quickly, and in that game we were not able to do as much to get good, clear scoring opportunities,” Jackson Yueill said midweekt. “It proved difficult to break their lines and get the ball into Danny [Hoesen] and Magnus [Eriksson] in order to create good scoring opportunities. … It’s a good thing if teams respect us like that. It’s easier for us to keep the ball, and we just need to be more creative to get the goal scoring opportunities.”
One aspect of the team’s improvement this year over last is in the players mental fortitude. 2018 was a debacle, without question, but the losses of last year, and the lack of response in subsequent games, offered little in the manner of growth opportunities. So far this season, especially following the Earthquakes four game losing streak at the onset, which concluded with a dismal 5-0 loss at home to the Los Angeles FC, the coaches and players have bought into the bigger picture of what it will take to be competitive in a challenging MLS Western Conference.
“Against LAFC, we were drawing off of last year’s defeats and last year’s season,” Yueill said. “I think the loss against New England is still a step forward for us, because, like I said, I don’t think we played a bad game at all, but it definitely shows that we are not top of the table. We are still gaining our way and there’s still a lot of work left to do on the training pitch. Instead of this defeating us, it motivates us more to improve.”
Yueill has been an important part of the Quakes resurgence after the 0-4 start to the season, and the third year midfielder has settled into a tidy partnership with veteran Anibal Godoy in the center of the formation. Against the Fire, the two central midfielders will be tasked with both shielding the back line and catalyzing the offense, a responsibility Yueill embraces, especially with the support of the Avaya Stadium faithful pushing them on.
“Of course, it’s nice to be home again and get the crowd behind us,” Yueill said. “My and Anibal’s positions in the midfield are very key, first defensively, to not let their attacking guys get any opportunities and easy goal scoring opportunities, and then when we are able to stop them, to be able to deliver it to our attackers because they are also very dangerous, and so I think we need to be able to go from our half to the other half much more quicker and under control.”
Following the game against the Fire, the Earthquakes hit the road again for weekend battles against two more top Eastern Conference foes, Toronto FC and DC United. Defeating Chicago on Saturday, especially as they are missing two key players, and building momentum ahead of those upcoming away games will be vital for San Jose.
When: May 18, 12:30 p.m. Pacific Time
Where: Avaya Stadium, San Jose, CA.
Broadcast: Univision, KNBR 1050
Live Stream: Twitter
Earthquakes injury report: none.