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San Jose Earthquakes top LAFC 3-0 for first win of preseason

Sep 22, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski (8) controls the ball ahead of Los Angeles FC defender Dejan Jakovic (5) in the first half at Banc of California Stadium. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

The San Jose Earthquakes faced their first MLS opponent of the preseason on Saturday, defeating Los Angeles FC 3-0 at Banc of California Stadium courtesy of first-half goals from Magnus Eriksson and Chris Wondolowski and a late clincher from Vako.

The result was a nice bounceback from the previous week’s 3-0 loss to the club’s USL Championship affiliate, Reno 1868 FC, in which the Quakes played with much more lethargy following an intensive two-week preseason training stint in Cancun, Mexico. Against LAFC, San Jose was much more energetic and controlled the pace for sustained portions of the match, adding a lethal counterattack to their quiver of offensive options.

The Earthquakes return to the Bay Area for the rest of their preseason, next facing the Seattle Sounders at Avaya Stadium this Saturday. A week later, they begin their 2019 MLS campaign when they host the Montreal Impact.

There was much to learn from the Quakes first win under new head coach Matias Almeyda, as well as a few items that are encouraging for a team that is looking to erase some painful memories from 2018’s historically bad season.

Newcomers begin to find their own

The week before, during the 3-0 loss to Reno, the four newest members of the squad were featured in the starting lineup. Almeyda utilized the same XI in LA, with goalkeeper Daniel Vega, defender Marcos Lopez and midfielders Cristian Espinoza and Judson comporting themselves much better. Espinoza earned the assist on Wondolowski’s goal with a pinpoint cross from the right flank, while Vega made the saves required of him to earn his first shutout of the preseason.

Judson, paired with veteran Anibal Godoy in the center of midfield, was not very effective as a shield in front of the Quakes centerbacks last weekend in Reno. By all accounts, the Brazilian looked much more in control of proceedings against LAFC’s dangerous midfielders Mark-Anthony Kaye and Carlos Vela, even when the hosts settled into their attacking formation. He has clearly earned Almeyda’s trust so far this preseason, and he’ll be required to be the stopper for San Jose when the campaign begins in two weeks.

There was little attention paid to Lopez, the young Peruvian defender, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. San Jose’s left back position was a weakness in 2018, and any performance that leads to a shutout, even an anonymous one, is reason for encouragement.

Wondo still wonderful

In not so breaking news, Chris Wondolowski is a very good soccer player. In 90 minutes against LAFC, the forward notched a goal and an assist, with his classic near-post run and connection with Espinoza’s pass hitting the back of the net in the first half and his low cross from the endline feeding Vako for the game’s third goal in the closing minutes. It was a tidy performance from the 36-year-old against an LAFC defense anchored by U.S. national team centerback Walker Zimmerman.

Wondolowski earned the start for the second straight game because forward Danny Hoesen continues his efforts to secure his Green Card ahead of the start of the season, which would allow him to count as a domestic player on San Jose’s roster. Hoesen was not with the team in LA.

It is not clear whether Almeyda will choose Wondolowski or Hoesen to be the Quakes starting forward should he elect to run a 4-2-3-1 formation like the team featured against LAFC. The coach could decide to go with both players, perhaps with Wondo in a withdrawn position behind Hoesen at the point, when San Jose plays Montreal in the opener. Either way, the Quakes captain is going to get minutes to start the 2019 season if he continues his successful preseason form.

Responding to Almeyda

When the Quakes finished their Mexico preseason camp, almost entirely consisting of two-a-day training sessions, they flew directly to Reno to take on their affiliate. The result was a discouraging 3-0 loss, but one that had some excuses built in. Following a week at home in San Jose, the trip to LA was seen as a much better barometer of where Almeyda had the team, two weeks from its season opener.

“We came here after losing, and after training sessions focused on being confident, playing together, making sacrifices,” Almeyda told the media following the game. “[A]ny team I manage, everyone runs and everyone plays, and those who don’t see it that way will be left out.”

The coach was vocal throughout the game, barking orders from the sideline and keeping the Quakes at a high velocity. LAFC was far from crisp in possession, and the visitors seized on the opportunity to take a two-goal halftime lead. Almeyda kept the lineup the same to start the second half — he had sent in an entirely new eleven at intermission against Reno — and they kept the momentum in favor of San Jose. The subs, sprinkled in at intervals, did their parts to see the game to its 3-0 result.

Almeyda has said repeatedly through the preseason that he has high expectations of the squad, and this was the first sign that the players are responding positively.

“There’s many things from today we can work on correcting,” the coach said, “but the truth is that I saw a big change; really they played above all for the rival.

With a lot of the roster returning from 2018, it will take a strong effort from Almeyda and his staff to keep the team hungry and motivated. Taking down a playoff team on the road is a good first victory for the MLS newcomer, even if it comes in preseason, and it will go a long way to validating his approach within the squad.

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