SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Earthquakes play their last game of the preseason this weekend when they host the Seattle Sounders at Avaya Stadium. For fans of the Quakes, it will be their first opportunity to see new head coach Matias Almeyda guide the team at home, one week before the MLS regular season kicks off against the Montreal Impact.
“We’re happy,” Almeyda told Pro Soccer USA this week. “Slowly we are finding the style we are looking for. We know it’s going to take some time to achieve all that.”
Since officially taking over as coach following the conclusion of the 2018 season, Almeyda set about formulating a plan that would revive the energy of an existing squad that stumbled to the finish line last year and add new ideas through off-season player acquisitions and a complete tactical overhaul. So far, so good.
Nick Lima, who was the team’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and joined the Earthquakes preseason camp after a successful stint with the U.S. men’s national team, wasn’t sure what to expect under Almeyda’s leadership, but he has been impressed with the way the coach has rallied the players together.
“Definitely from a team aspect,” Lima shared with Pro Soccer USA. “Playing more like a team is what we are looking for right now, more important than the results.”
That first test had come against Reno 1868 FC two weeks ago, when the Quakes stopped in Nevada on the way back from an intensive 16-day training camp in Mexico. Legs were tired across the team, and San Jose dropped a disappointing 3-0 result to their USL Championship affiliate before finally arriving back in the Bay Area.
Rather than sulking at the loss, Almeyda and the Earthquakes set about learning from the experience and rebounded with an impressive 3-0 win at Los Angeles FC last weekend. Guram Kashia, who captains the defensive line from his centerback station, was encouraged by the performance, especially after witnessing firsthand the Quakes shaky state last season.
“The last game showed that we have confidence, because, not only could we win, we could do so playing really well,” Kashia said. “The coach is really satisfied. So we are in a good way, and we are putting in really, really good work.”
Almeyda has instituted a more aggressive game plan, one that requires a lot of defensive pressure and quick transitions. The first two weeks of preseason, which focused heavily on fitness, have the players closer to the level needed to see these tactics succeed, but there are clearly many steps still to take before anyone will say it has been fully implemented.
“How we came out against LA is the bottom, and we have to build up from there,” Lima said. Working harder, better, and improving our quality and knowing our positioning better, all of that can definitely improve.”
The Earthquakes have kept up the intensity in their training sessions this week, with Almeyda and his coaching staff guiding the players through more game situations. After featuring the same starting eleven the past two preseason games, he had those players working together throughout the various drills in practice.
Almeyda also took the team on Tuesday from their regular training field just outside Avaya Stadium across the tracks to their old home Buck Shaw Stadium. It was an opportunity to remind the players of the Quakes’ past, notably the 2012 season when they captured the Supporters’ Shield. San Jose last played at Buck Shaw in 2014 and hasn’t won a trophy since.
“We want to make sure we are keeping the same work, the same method, and make sure we getting closer to where we want to be for the first game of the season,” Almeyda said.
Saturday’s game against the Sounders will serve as a dress rehearsal for the home opener on March 2 against the Impact, and Almeyda is keen to see the progress of his plan started nearly five weeks ago. He knows there will be a sizable contingency on hand to see his debut on the Quakes’ sideline, but he wants the fans to keep their attention on the squad, hopefully showing significant improvement over last season.
“I am already happy with the welcome I’ve received here,” Almeyda said. “And on Saturday, I hope the welcoming is more for the players. They are the protagonists.”
It may only be a preseason game, but for the coach and his players, it is a chance to make a good first impression in 2019 and maybe stoke some optimism in supporters that the new season can be a success.
When: February 23, 12:45 p.m. Pacific Time
Where: Avaya Stadium, San Jose, CA.
Broadcast: Live Stream via SJEarthquakes.com