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Three things we learned about San Jose Earthquakes after Minnesota United victory

Mar 3, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes celebrate after the score against the Minnesota United during the second half at Avaya Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Here are three things we learned from the San Jose Earthquakes’ 3-2 win against Minnesota United, which saw the home side dominate the first half, get two goals from Danny Hoesen and survive a spirited United comeback.

1. Danny Hoesen is a Golden Boot candidate

Throughout preseason, Chris Wondolowski sang the praises of Hoesen, who he tabbed as his favorite to win Major League Soccer’s Golden Boot award this year. It always seemed a bit of hyperbole from the Quakes captain, who is the league’s second-most prolific scorer ever and will challenge Landon Donovan’s all-time MLS record. Wondolowski is the one synonymous with scoring goals in San Jose.

But OK Wondo, you have our attention, especially after watching Hoesen bag his brace.

“I had him for a hat trick, to be honest,” Wondolowski said. “He’s unbelievable and talented in so many different ways. So dangerous, as you saw tonight. He can score in different ways, and I love that. It’s only going to be great things from him this year.”

And he should know. Since 2010, when Wondolowski won his first of two Golden Boots, only two other Earthquakes have scored in double figures: Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart, who tallied 13 and 10 goals, respectively, in San Jose’s 2012 Supporters’ Shield winning campaign. Wondo scored 27 goals that season, matching the MLS single-season record.

Hoesen joined the team a year ago on a one-year loan from FC Groningen in the Dutch Eredivisie before making the transfer permanent at season’s end. He arrived in San Jose the same day as Florian Jungwirth, and both Europeans were expected to do great things for the Earthquakes. Jungwirth shined in season one, earning the team’s Defender of the Year honor, but Hoesen took a little longer to find his groove. The German midfielder is not at all surprised by the Dutch forward’s impressive start to 2018.

“I saw it from the first day that he is a great striker,” Jungwirth said. “It was not easy for him last season because played out of position, which was not to his strengths. He has a great trust with his partner Wondo next to him, and both can gain an advantage from each other. I’m sure Danny is a 15-plus goals guy, so we will keep up the pressure for him, and then we will all be happy.”

2. Lose focus and they look vulnerable

The Quakes found their footing as the first half wore on, employing a pressing game to force the Loons into turnovers that resulted in two quick strikes. Following intermission, they continued to keep up the energy and scored goal No. 3. It looked to all that San Jose would cruise to a convincing victory on MLS opening night.

But then the team approach turned a bit complacent, and Minnesota jumped at the opportunity to get back in the game, earning a pair of goals from Kevin Molino that had everyone in the sold-out crowd of 18,000 at Avaya Stadium nervously watching the game clock. And when referee Baldomero Toledo blew his whistle at the end, the Earthquakes breathed a collective sigh of relief instead of savoring the victory.

It was a lesson learned, one that dampened the postgame locker room mood and left many reflecting on what the team must address moving forward.

“We are not satisfied, especially with the last minutes of the game,” Jungwirth said. “The first half was very impressive. We were compact and did not allow a lot of chances, and the offense was really good. We had a good transition and created a lot of chance, so that two goal lead was especially earned.

“In the second half, we sat a little bit back, then we scored a great goal, but then we were a bit too passive, passing from left to right but not being very aggressive. If you have it in your mind to sit back and not attack the way we know we can attack, that is a little bit dangerous. We have to handle that better, but, obviously, we very happy get three points in the first game. That’s all that counts.”

A win’s a win, but the Quakes will need to avoid complacency when they have the lead, especially against opponents that are a step above Minnesota.

“The next weeks will come tougher opponents, and they will punish us more if we do those sloppy mistakes in the last 15 minutes,” Jungwirth said. “We have to learn that maybe we have to be more humble when we have a lead like that and play smarter. I am sure we can do that better, and then we are on our way.”

3. Mikael Stahre’s preseason preparations pay dividends

The Earthquakes welcomed a new head coach in the offseason, ending a turbulent year of changes in player and technical staff personnel when Mikael Stahre arrived in San Jose last November. The 42-year-old Swede transformed the attitude within the team and presided over a preseason that saw the Quakes finish undefeated. And even with an at times shaky performance against Minnesota, the team brought an improved mentality to MLS opening night.

“In the end, they say it is about winning, and we did, and that is the most important thing,” Stahre said. “The energy was not the best in the locker room, they were a little disappointed and not celebrating like a normal victory, but I reminded them that at the end of the day, it is about winning, and we did that tonight.”

The upbeat Stahre has been unflappable so far, and his positivity has rubbed off on his charges. The mindset to work hard and reap the rewards, to trust one another and play to your strengths, has been Stahre’s message in team talks and with individual player conversations. And for the better part of Saturday night, the Quakes responded.

“We play with a lot of confidence, and we know we can create chances and score goals,” Hoesen said, “so we just kept going and tried the right guys. When it starts going well, it keeps going well.”

“It was very important,” Jungwirth added. “Confidence raises up with wins, that’s normal, and especially the first game, everyone was excited and then, because you don’t know what level you are at coming off preseason, no one knows if it is enough to beat Minnesota, to dominant them, or is it going to be close, so it helps.”

Stahre has two weeks to prepare his squad for the Earthquakes next game, a visit to almost indomitable Sporting Kansas City on March 17. If he can keep the team focused and organized for that match, and they can earn a second consecutive victory, the Quakes will put the rest of the Western Conference on notice that they are the real deal in 2018.

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