SAN JOSE, Calif. — The break in the calendar, timed to the start of the FIFA World Cup, couldn’t come soon enough for the San Jose Earthquakes. After all, with only one win since the season opener, the Quakes needed time to regroup.
But the MLS schedule makers did not do San Jose any favors, as three of the team’s next four games will be on the road and their one home game in that span, the season’s second California Clasico against the LA Galaxy, will be played at nearby Stanford Stadium. It will be a tall ask for the Earthquakes to make much improvement on their paltry 2-9-4 record.
“Of course, it is hard when you have these types of away games,” head coach Mikael Stahre told Pro Soccer USA, “but we have to focus on these games one at a time. We know we have a hard schedule coming up.”
The Quakes are winless in six games and drifted well of the pace in the Western Conference. Meanwhile their opponent this weekend, Real Salt Lake, sits above the playoffs line and with a win Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, could move up to as high as third place.
San Jose’s last visit to Sandy did not go well, as RSL jumped all over them and cruised to a comfortable 4-0 victory last August. The scoreline could have been even worse but for some poor finishing from the hosts, and the lopsided road defeat was one of many the Earthquakes suffered last season.
So far in 2018, the Quakes have managed to play more respectably away from Avaya Stadium, never losing by more than one goal. Their road record of 1-5-2 is still poor by any measure, but the tighter games have meant San Jose has been in it to the final whistle, and perhaps with a bit more effort they can turn losses into draws and draws into wins
“Yes, we only have one win away from home,” Stahre said, “but for me, you have to look at everything from a bigger perspective. If you look at our away games so far, only in the game at Orlando City were we outplayed. The rest of the games, even against Sporting Kansas City, we were competitive.”
But Real Salt Lake is very tough to beat at home, where this season they are 6-1-0. Since getting blown out 5-1 t by LAFC in its home opener, RSL has won six straight games at The RioT while conceding a total of just four goals.
The Quakes have been following their regular training schedule during the 10-day MLS break in the calendar, and coaches and players alike have using what effectively serves as a bye-week to get healthy and work on the fundamentals.
San Jose’s biggest Achilles’ heel has been its defensive back line, but recently signed centerback Guram Kashia will not be eligible to play until the summer transfer window opens on July 10. Rookie fullback Kevin Partida, who was suspended for the last game, a 2-2 draw with the New England Revolution, will be available for selection and could get his second start since joining the Quakes on a season-long loan from USL affiliate Reno 1868 FC earlier this month.
Much of San Jose’s formation should look the same from that which faced the Revs last week. Stahre is expected to employ a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield that places Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili at the tip and Florian Jungwirth at the base. The team’s two leading scorers, Danny Hoesen with nine goals and Chris Wondolowski with four, will play in front of Vako in the attacking setup.
The lack of results has been difficult for the Quakes, but Stahre remains confident that his players can turn the corner in the second half of the season. He actively works to shield his squad from the growing criticism brought on by their poor record so they can focus on the task at hand — the next game’s opponent — and he is encouraged by the commitment the players have made to him and one another.
“My job to stabilize everything, to look after the guys in the locker room, and it is not always easy,” Stahre said. “You have to deal with lots and lots of distractions, and that is normal. For me, it is about keeping the players as stable as possible, and that’s number one.”
Following the visit to Real Salt Lake and the Cali Clasico at Stanford, the Earthquakes hit the road for games at the Portland Timbers and Montreal Impact. A sudden u-turn from their current form is unlikely, but Stahre is hopeful that the Quakes can make another incremental step forward in the team’s performances over these next four games.
The schedule is going to be a challenge, for sure,” Stahre said, “but this is the reality right now, and our job is to prepare the team. We have to look at every game, whether it is home or away, in the same way now and get results.”
When: June 23, 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, UT.
Broadcast: NBC Sports California, KNBR 1050
Live Stream: ESPN+
Earthquakes injury report: Out: Shea Salinas (hamstring); Questionable: Joel Qwiberg (knee)