The San Jose Earthquakes made the MLS Cup playoffs last season, the first time in five years, but it was not an easy journey to get there. Well documented coaching and personnel changes weren’t the only obstacles, as inconsistency on the field made every game an adventure: it was a three-goal win one week and a four-goal loss the next.
One of last season’s newcomers was Florian Jungwirth, a defensive midfielder specialist from SV Darmstadt 98 of the German Bundesliga. Circumstances forced Jungwirth into the role of centerback for the Quakes, one he begrudgingly took on, and his valiant efforts earned him the team’s defensive player of the year award. But he yearned to return to midfield.
The Earthquakes appointed Mikael Stahre as their new head coach in the offseason, and the Swede has been busy revamping the squad. A dozen new players were added to the roster, including new defensive reinforcements, allowing Jungwirth to move up in the formation to the position he excels in most. The German midfielder has been impressed with how Stahre has transformed the team in preseason.
“I think we did really well,” Jungwirth told Pro Soccer USA. “Most of the time it was important to implement the philosophy of the coach, listen to his technical advice, and we worked a lot on that.”
San Jose finished their preseason schedule of scrimmages and friendlies undefeated. The team looked much more organized on both sides of the ball under Stahre’s direction, mixing in a high pressing strategy with a fast tempo transition game, all with Jungwirth as central midfielder orchestrating the play. He sees the change in attitude on and off the field, and he’s aiming for a strong start to the season when the Quakes open against Minnesota United on Saturday at Avaya Stadium, kickoff at 7:30 p.m.
“Most importantly, we want to be more aggressive, especially in the center,” Jungwirth said. “Last year, we allowed too much space and too many chances against us. It is important to be compact, to be aggressive, to win the ball early because it’s easier to create chances and score goals.”
Jungwirth recalled that too often last season the Quakes would gain possession deep in their own half, necessitating a grueling 80-yard run to create scoring opportunities. It was taxing on the players both mentally and physically, playing a significant role in the team’s shocking -21 goal differential. But Stahre has changed the team’s approach and Jungwirth is hopeful the improvements can correct, even reverse, that number in 2018.
“We’ll have to see,” Jungwirth said. “Our transition game now is really good, especially when you see the goals we scored in the preseason. Against LA, the play was really impressive. Our attacking group is really strong. It will be one of our strengths this season.”
San Jose qualified for the postseason despite having the most lopsided goal differential among the 12 playoff contenders, and they were punished by the Vancouver Whitecaps 5-0 in the knockout round. With the changes in tactics and approach this season, Jungwirth is aiming for another MLS Cup playoffs appearance and a chance for redemption.
“We all feel in a good shape with our fitness, and we are ready to play our new style,” Jungwirth said. “Hopefully, with the right mentality, it will be enough for us to be a playoff team again.”