San Jose Earthquakes: Making sense of huge win over LAFC

San Jose Earthquakes (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
San Jose Earthquakes (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Here are all the pros and cons of that huge win by the San Jose Earthquakes

While both the San Jose Earthquakes and the LAFC have passionate fanbases, there were likely a few from both camps who saw this game on the schedule, assumed LAFC with their incredible attacking players would crush the Quakes yet again, and find another use of their time for those two hours. Then when they got the ESPN notification with the final score, they probably assumed it was a mistake.

It was not a mistake. A miracle maybe, but not a mistake. Games like this will make a person happy they don’t gamble on sports. Not that anyone should gamble on MLS anyway where parity and unpredictability have been a staple for years.

From conversations with friends, family, and fans through many social media platforms, there has been a wide variety of reactions to this result. Some people immediately dismiss this victory and call it a fluke. Others feel like the San Jose Earthquakes just won the World Cup (which no club, not even Chicago Fire in the Bastian Schweinsteiger era, will ever feel).

The best way to approach sorting through these feelings and getting an accurate assessment of what the San Jose Earthquakes can bring to the table talent and results-wise is a favorite of Jim Halpert’s from The Office: let’s make a pros and cons list.

Pro: “What Have You Done For Me, Lately?”

The San Jose Earthquakes has accumulated a lot of goodwill because they have many likable players. From their interactions with fans to how they conduct themselves at press conferences, what’s not to like about them as people? They also can be good players when at their best. However, the Quakes went 9 games without a win going back to their exit from the MLS is Back Tournament when they lost to Minnesota United in the Quarterfinals. Soccer is a results business, and 9 games are roughly 25% of a season in most leagues. Clubs cannot afford to that long without a win as it has multiple implications in terms of season results, fan interest, and more. The bottom line is, this win gives more casual San Jose fans a reason to care again, and it gives diehard fans a reason to believe again.

Con: The Table Doesn’t Lie

Even with this win, San Jose Earthquakes remain bottom of the Western Conference. Only 3 Eastern Conference clubs have fewer than San Jose’s 14 points: FC Cincinnati(13), Inter Miami, and DC United (both 11). The Earthquakes also have a -20 goal difference and it could’ve been worse, having suffered four big losses since the MLS is Back Tournament. One good result doesn’t tell the whole story of a season, and it cannot undo the hole a club digs themselves into when they’ve dug it so deep. It can be something to build on, but not much more. At least for the time being.

Pro: “So You’re Saying There’s a Chance?”

The 8th place and final playoff spot in the Western Conference is occupied by Real Salt Lake with 18 points. With 9 games left in the schedule for the San Jose Earthquakes, being just 4 points off means they have a chance to make the playoffs for only the second time since their Supporters Shield winning season in 2012. It remains hard to sell given the total body of work this club has produced. By the grace of this odd season’s generous postseason format, no club in the league is buried yet. That doesn’t mean making the playoffs will be easier for those on the outside looking in, but it’s something to look forward to for the time being.

Con: Recurring Problems Persist

Clean sheets remain their near fictitious status regarding the Earthquakes, and they continue to concede the first goal in many of their matches which is a problematic trend. Andy Rios looks closer to hitting any given bleacher than a shot on target. There doesn’t yet seem to be an answer to be the best center-back pairing and defensive midfielder trio, partially due to injuries to Guram Kashia and Oswaldo Alanís. These are a lot of issues to overcome in any given game, which puts them behind the 8-ball almost automatically. Since the ownership at San Jose has been unable to bring in any reinforcements during this transfer window, this is the group they have to work with so changing some of these issues may be easier said than done.

Pro: The Kids Are Alright

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The nature of this fixture list along with starters underperforming and getting injured has allowed for younger players to get more game time. Marcos López is back in the fold and appears to have locked down that left back spot, which allows Nick Lima to play in his preferred right back spot and Tommy Thompson to contribute from midfield.

Eric Calvillo has become a solid contributor in midfield whether starting or off the bench. Cade Cowell is always an offensive spark when he’s on the field.

The difference between JT Marcinkowski and preferred goalkeeper Daniel Vega, who has struggled a lot this season, is night and day. Tanner Beason and Jacob Akanyirige seem capable of providing the more experienced center backs some breathers though there’s still room to grow. Quakes fans can be reasonably optimistic about the younger players.

Cons: The Almeyda Situation

Matías Almeyda’s track record speaks for itself, but for whatever reason(s), he doesn’t seem to have the right combination of factors going his way as manager of the San Jose Earthquakes. Whether ownership isn’t backing him with his desired transfers, his tactics are high-risk, high-reward at best, or players aren’t performing, he’s not having the level of success he’s used to.  Not even close.

Almeyda isn’t blameless through. In the 5-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids, he made two shocking substitutions. He pulled Cade Cowell out of the game at halftime to bring on Chris Wondolowski despite Andy Rios playing poorly yet again. Additionally, he subbed Paul Marie on for Cristian Espinoza when the Quakes were 2-0 down and desperately needed goals.

Along with his insistence in starting Daniel Vega when JT Marcinkowski has looked sharper in his 2 appearances this season, Almeyda needs to put this club in a position to succeed. That means starting and playing the players who deserve the minutes.

Closing Thoughts

The San Jose Earthquakes have 7 games scheduled in October: Two against LA Galaxy, two against Vancouver Whitecaps, and one each against Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, and Real Salt Lake. The good news is that half of those games are against teams San Jose has already beaten this season.

The bad news is that every single one of these opponents knows exactly what to expect with the man-marking system and has the talent to exploit it. That includes Vancouver, despite their recent 6-0 loss to LAFC, because they had a 3-1 lead at one point in the MLS is Back Tournament game.

The bottom line is one win, while against LAFC and lifting a weight off the shoulders of everyone associated with the San Jose Earthquakes, does not change the bigger picture. It will take more consistency and more results to convince their fans, journalists, and pundits that they are more than just a bottomfeeder in Major League Soccer that can spring the odd upset.

The 2-1 victory over LAFC shows that when the right pieces are put together, they can compete. It is up to Matías Almeyda to get the most out of the players he currently has at this club because as long as ownership remains this stingy, he can’t rely on the number of reinforcements he is used to having access to when managing in Mexico or Argentina. If he insists on starting Andy Rios and Daniel Vega, he has no one to blame but himself and the Quakes fanbase will remain skeptical, cynical, and frustrated.

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Whoever steps on the field at Avaya Stadium this Saturday to face LA Galaxy, I hope they can build on the previous performance and not just talk the talk, but also perform when it matters. We know Chris Wondolowski is willing his teammates to step up and play to their abilities. Now is the time for everyone at the club to play like their season is on the line. Because it is.