SAN JOSE, Calif. — Four straight losses, each progressively worse than the one before, befell the San Jose Earthquakes to start the season. But after collecting points in five of their last six games, the once dead last team is no longer the laughing stock of MLS.
The Quakes have become a worthy opponent not by luck, but through hard work and the dedication to learn and execute the vision of new head coach Matias Almeyda. Last weekend’s impressive 1-0 win, earned while playing a man down for nearly half the game, has the players believing that even better days are to come, and not for San Jose’s opponents.
“We are in a good moment now and we have to take advantage of it,” goalkeeper Daniel Vega said after the Cincy win. “Everybody will see San Jose differently now, and if we keep playing like this, nobody is going to want to play against us because as a group we have this spirit and we want to keep this spirit.”
FC Cincinnati, after suffering its fifth straight shutout loss, fired head coach Alan Koch earlier this week. The Earthquakes opponent in today’s game, the New England Revolution, preemptively relieved Brad Friedel of his duties this week as well following two straight blowout losses. Suddenly, it is the Quakes, basement dwellers a month ago, that are a symbol of stability.
San Jose travels to New England with all the momentum, hoping to capitalize on the disarray in Foxborough. Meanwhile, the Revs, still reeling from Friedel’s dismissal, but freed from the weight of his struggles to inspire the team to better play, have a clean slate with which to work under interim head coach Mike Lapper, and all bets are off as to how they will respond.
“They will have that anger inside, the shame that a footballer can feel,” Earthquakes defender Harold Cummings shared this week. “We will have to be aware of that, because a hurt opponent is more dangerous. They’re always more alert and looking to recover from that situation. I think it will be a much more complicated opponent then we’ve been facing to this point.”
The Quakes were in a similar situation back in March to what the Revs are experiencing today. They had just lost in disheartening fashion to LAFC, a 5-0 demolition at Avaya Stadium, and the coaches and team retreated to the locker room after the game for an almost hour-long talk. It was transformative and cathartic in equal measures, and San Jose responded the next weekend with an impressive 3-0 win over the Portland Timbers.
“The truth is, you can’t get too high during the good times and you can’t get too low during the bad times,” wingback Tommy Thompson shared this week. “If we had gotten really down on ourselves after we lost 5-0 at home to LAFC, we would have never made it to where we are at right now. So just because things are going bad, you can’t start blaming each other, you can’t start blaming the coaches. You have to stay together because that is the only way to get out of a difficult situation.”
Reports from Foxborough suggest the Revolution players are glad to see Friedel gone, and the newfound energy it brings as they reset on a season still in its early stages provides momentum heading into Saturday’s game against the Earthquakes. San Jose will need to respond with its own commitment to the game, building on its own progress in recent weeks. They don’t want to be the victim of a renewed Revolution team.
“We have always worked on keeping the team in line with respect to being concentrated and committed to the game,” Almeyda said. “We just saw a Champions League match in which one team’s lack of concentration put the other team in the final. If that can take place at that level, our team, that is just beginning to improve, should not let its guard down.”
The Quakes will be without midfielder Cristian Espinoza, who will be serving a one-game suspension for earning a red card against FC Cincinnati. Thompson, who partners with Espinoza on the right side of the formation is expected to have Shea Salinas join him on that sideline at Gillette Stadium. The personnel adjustment means that the coaching staff has had to make a few tweaks to the tactical approach.
“It’s hard to replicate the characteristics that Cristian Espinoza offers this team,” Almeyda said. “This is forcing us to change the system a little bit for this game. Maybe we’re going to change the way we play with pressure and tactical possession, but we still haven’t defined the Starting XI.”
If it’s not Salinas, perhaps it could be Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili on the right. Maybe Almeyda goes with a different formation altogether, using a different blend of attacking and defending midfielders. The specific players will be different, but that doesn’t change the overall approach to facing the Revolution.
“It doesn’t matter because every team in this league can be dangerous,” Thompson said, “So you have to approach each game the same way.”
The Earthquakes have a golden opportunity to earn their first road win of the season, especially as the Revs can’t rely solely on emotional motivation to erase the shoddy start to their season. If San Jose plays its game the way it’s developed in recent weeks, three points will be the expected reward.
When: May 11, 14:30 p.m. Pacific Time
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA.
Broadcast: NBC Sports Bay Area, KNBR 1050
Live Stream: ESPN+
Earthquakes injury report: Questionable: Marcos Lopez (knee injury); Suspended: Cristian Espinoza (red card); International Duty: Gilbert Fuentes