If there’s anyone still wondering if Matias Almeyda’s system will work in his debut campaign with the San Jose Earthquakes and in Major League Soccer, look no further than the last two Saturdays in Avaya Stadium.
In his absence due to suspension from his actions in their 4-0 loss at LAFC, the Earthquakes not only got back on track to secure their spot in the playoffs, but they also have shown that even without their heralded leader on the touchlines, that Almeyda’s tactics, style, and culture are here to stay.
That was on full display in last weekend’s win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, and in Saturday night’s 3-0 win over Orlando City.
“We felt and love his passion, love that he was sticking up for us,” Chris Wondolowski said after Saturday night’s win.
“I thought we played really well defensively, but had one or two lapses a game and punishing us, rightfully so. So it was nice to come out and really just kind of hold the game and then kind of dictate it from there.”
San Jose scored all three of its goals in the first half-hour of the match with Magnus Eriksson opening the scoring in as early as the third minute of the match. Wondolowski extended his all-time league goalscoring record to 157 goals with his first-half brace Saturday night, scoring in the 20th and 33rd minutes.
What might’ve been the club’s most efficient night, if not definitely one of, came without their leader on the touchlines once again.
Almeyda was originally suspended for one game after he argued with officials over a handball and confronted a fan in San Jose’s loss at LAFC back on August 21. His suspension was extended for two more matches for on-field misconduct, and he was fined. Saturday night marked the second match of his three-match suspension for his actions.
“It was a clear handball in L.A., and, you know, we don’t get those calls and hadn’t got those calls … three games was a bit too much. But, I think that you kind of use that as a chip on your shoulder,” Wondolowski explained.
Almeyda’s suspension highlighted the club’s then four-match winless streak that included three losses in a row.
The Earthquakes responded strong to their manager’s punishment and absence on the pitch. Last week, they fired an MLS-record 43 shots, with another league record 19 shots on goal in a 3-1 win over the Whitecaps. Saturday night, they were a lot more efficient on the pitch, firing just 19 shots with nine on-goal in a 3-0 shutout, their first clean sheet in nine matches.
Even without Almeyda on the touchlines, his much-talked-about system continued to click on all cylinders through the last two matches, guiding the team back into second place in the Western Conference – at least for a night. San Jose has outscored opponents 6-1 in the last two wins while outshooting them a whopping 62-14 (28-3 on goal).
“It’s nice momentum,” Jungwirth added. “Yeah, the West in insane, it’s changing quickly, and we know it will be close until Decision Day and we must be prepared for everything.”
While the team seems to be fighting for their leader Almeyda on the pitch, his influence and culture he’s brought to San Jose with this idea of family and fighting for one another exude through the club even in his absence.
“Everyone fights for the team,” Jungwirth said. “Matias is outside because he lives the game as just a few guys and there are others that do.
“Something is obviously missing, but it didn’t matter that two games fortunately and, of course, it’s a win for him, but also for everyone who loves the club.”
The Earthquakes’ bounce-back season has cruised high with a few occasional bumps since their disastrous start to the regular season. Since the beginning of April, San Jose is 13-6-5 since starting the season on a four-match losing streak.