SAN JOSE, Calif. — Entering last weekend’s game against Toronto FC at Avaya Stadium, the San Jose Earthquakes had not won a game at home since the season opener, way back on March 3. Many fans showed their displeasure at the historically bad run of results by simply not showing up. Those that were in attendance showed little enthusiasm throughout the evening.
The Quakes fell behind to the defending MLS Cup champions before rallying to tie the game 1-1 on Chris Wondolowski’s 141st all-time goal — an occasion that lifted the fans to their feet — but there was little else to cheer for as San Jose dropped to 1-5-5 at home in 2018. A small cadre of determined supporters, surely frustrated by the lack of victories, took the opportunity to display a banner calling for the ouster of head coach Mikael Stahre.
For his part, Stahre is trying to block out the noise, and in his postgame comments, the rookie MLS coach signaled that he believed the team had a future. In training this week, he echoed that view, explaining that he was planning for the remaining games on this season’s schedule, as well as next year’s campaign.
“Both. The future is also the upcoming ten games,” Stahre said. “For me, that we are having this situation where we are rock bottom and cannot reach the playoffs, so you can’t just play for the results this season. All the players have to also play for their own futures, to show the club that they can be counted on in the future, and also to show the fans, the coaching staff, the front office, the ownership, that even if we are not good enough results-wise, we have something we can build on for the future.”
It’s a sentiment that Wondolowski has said numerous times this summer as the Earthquakes’ chances of making the MLS Cup playoffs have dwindled. Everyone in the organization is working to keep his or her job, so it can become a challenge to balance the short-term need for results with the long-term plan to develop.
“Tactically, we want to find a way we can play where we can find a balance between a solid and aggressive team on defense and a more creative offense,” Stahre continued. “Of course, it is not just for me, it is important for the whole club that we can make these last ten games matter.
“And it’s not just simply, saying we will try to win some games and go out and practice. No, we are still serious and still preparing for every single game. We can make some changes and let other players have a chance to play, but it must be in a structured way. We can’t say it doesn’t matter, just go out and play, no, absolutely not. We have to respect ourselves and we have to respect the club and do our best.”
The Quakes have six home games remaining on the calendar, including two in the next week, and Stahre is not giving into the pressure from outside. He has been a football manager at some level since he was 14 years old — it’s the only walk of life he’s ever known — and he’s not planning to quit anytime soon. That his experience in San Jose counts among the worst coaching stints of his career only feeds his motivation to remain steady in the face of such turmoil.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Stahre said. “When you win 1-0 instead of lose 1-0, and in games you get the benefit instead of the opposite, you are at the top of the table. Then it’s quite easy to be a manager, right, when everything is going your way. When it is not, you have to show your leadership, you must push the right buttons, you must have the right communication with the guys around you, otherwise, it will be a hard, a mess around inside the locker room and on the training field. And then everything is up and down and you can’t move forward from that.
“For me, it is important to stay cool, be critical in all ways, as well as to myself. But you can’t be overly critical in every single moment, you have to move forward. That’s why I think that if we can end this season good, these last ten games, we will have something to build on for next season.”