SAN JOSE, Calif. — As the rain began, first as a sprinkle and then as a steady downpour, the San Jose Earthquakes continued a thorough training session at their facility adjacent to Avaya Stadium. With a full two weeks between their season opener — a less than assured 3-2 win over Minnesota United — and Saturday’s game at Sporting Kansas City, the Quakes spent a lot of time on the practice pitch.
Last season, the Earthquakes struggled on the road, finishing with a 3-12-2 record and -28 goal differential away from San Jose. They made the postseason, which ended after one game — a 5-0 shellacking at the Vancouver Whitecaps. It’s a new year, however, and there’s been many changes, perhaps none more important than head coach Mikael Stahre.
Stahre steered the players to an unbeaten record through preseason and the start of the 2018 MLS campaign. He sees improvements as key to building a better road record this year.
“We know it is always important to look in the mirror and look at the past, but now we have some changes, some new players, and a new coaching staff,” Stahre told Pro Soccer USA. “We have to improve our record on the road, that is for sure. First, it is about the game plan, the technical and tactical things, but also the mentality. We have to work like a team to the bitter end, even if we concede a goal or two goals. We have to stay like a team for the two 45 minutes and the extra time, so that’s the big picture.”
Against Minnesota, the Quakes built a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 advantage midway through the second half, but the Loons fought back to make the game too close for comfort. The entire team eased up when leading, precipitating the late Minnesota comeback, something goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell and the defensive unit will look to avoid when they visit Sporting KC.
“We just have to keep our concentration for the whole game and stick to the game plan and play with confidence and just stay focused for the entire game,” Tarbell said. “We’ve just worked hard on getting the game plan ready and staying organized. It’s a mentality thing. If we have the right mentality, work hard, and stay focused, we will have better results on the road.”
Tarbell, 24, was the Quakes’ second-choice goalkeeper to David Bingham at last season’s onset, but his heroic performance against Sporting Kansas City in the semifinal round of the 2017 U.S. Open Cup — a game lost on penalty kicks at Children’s Mercy Park — propelled him into the starting lineup.
He played every minute after that game, and Bingham was traded in the offseason to rival LA Galaxy.
Tarbell fondly remembers that initial experience in SKC, and he looks forward to returning this weekend.
“Yeah, I think everybody here likes to go play there,” Tarbell said. “It’s just a great environment. The fans are great, they’re loud, and it’s always packed. It’s a good team to face and it’s just a great place to go play, so everyone is excited and everyone is ready to perform on the big stage.”
For Stahre, the extended time between the season’s first two games allowed him to work through adjustments in strategy and approach in a more complete manner. He has the entirety of his roster to work with, including centerback Yeferson Quintana, who had to exit the game against Minnesota with an ankle injury. The Quakes coach is likely to send out the same starting eleven against Sporting KC, and he likes what they’ve shown him as they get ready to hit the road.
“First of all, we are looking forward to playing this game,” Stahre said. “We know it will be a tough game for us, but I learned that all games in MLS can be hard, so we see this as a challenge. It was an important win for us in the first game, and now we have some confidence for when we travel away for our first road game. Of course, we have to be confident, but also really, really humble for this game.”
The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. CST (5:30 p.m. PST) and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Bay Area. It also will be streamed via MLS Live. For fans in the South Bay, the team will be hosting a viewing party at The Alameda Floodcraft Brewing Company at Whole Foods Market in San Jose.