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Grading the Earthquakes: Bad defending, a good debut, and more

At the current moment, two weeks into the new MLS season, the San Jose Earthquakes are on a very similar pace to open their 2020 campaign. The lone difference is the lone point that they earned at the death in last week’s draw against Toronto FC.

Maybe this team is talented. Or maybe not as much as we all thought.

The biggest question surrounding the 2020 San Jose Earthquakes is, and will be, how good this team, this set of players, really is considering the lack of turnover with the roster this season. None of that talent has truly shown in the last two matches, and certainly none of it showed in Saturday’s blowout loss to Minnesota United.

If last year was the adjustment year to Matias Almeyda’s project, then what is the excuse for the slow start this season, in Year Two?

They have a lot more questions than answers at the moment, especially defensively speaking.

While newcomer Oswaldo Alanis has, or is supposed to, bring some stability to the Earthquakes’ backline, Guram Kashia might not be the right person to pair with him. Could Florian Jungwirth play that right centerback position over Guram Kashia? We may see that change next week when the club goes to Philadelphia.

Daniel Vega is losing favor amongst the Earthquakes’ fanbase following the loss to the Loons as well. Although he made a pair of saves, one coming off of a penalty kick (sorta), he looked completely outmatched and outclassed against the Minnesota attack on Saturday.

The defensive side of the pitch for the Earthquakes’ is a glaring problem just two weeks into the season, however, the attack has been a bit of an issue as well. Yes, they’ve scored a combined four goals in the two matches, but considering that this team was supposed to step up from just about everything last season, the attack seems nearly non-existent for majority of matches. And when they do create, they can’t find the back of the net.

However, the San Jose Earthquakes may have everyone right where they want them. Last year, in another loss where they conceded five goals, they rebounded quick the following week and slowly began to climb their way out of the basement of Major League Soccer. History sometimes does have a funny way of repeating itself sometimes.

Changes to familiar faces?

Let’s be honest for a second: the current Starting XI for the San Jose Earthquakes hasn’t really worked. They’ve gone down early in the first two matches of the season – even though they came back down two goals on opening day – and just haven’t seemed to have that “it” factor that should be just about there in the second year under Almeyda.

Although Almeyda has preached consistency throughout the preseason and into the season itself, it’s safe to say that he didn’t mean this. The Earthquakes have been consistently bad to start the year. But with 32 matches left, there’s plenty of time to fix things as the campaign goes on.

Everyone saw San Jose take a step back into their early 2019 form Saturday night in the loss to Minnesota. They were outmuscled, caught out of position more times than they should’ve been, and just overall outclassed by a Loons side that seemed to know exactly what they were trying to do.

Almeyda mentioned that he’ll start looking “at all the players” this week heading to their first road match of the season at the Philadelphia Union, meaning that we could see a few changes to the lineup. Maybe Chris Wondolowski’s first start of his final year comes at Philadelphia, and maybe we see changes in the backline as well.

Whatever it takes, Almeyda, nor the Earthquakes, can have another start to the season like they had last year.

A young silver lining

If there were any positives to take out of the Earthquakes’ loss, it would have to be the debut of 16-year-old Cade Cowell.

Cowell, one of the Earthquakes’ homegrowns, subbed into the game for Danny Hoesen after halftime and, although he didn’t score, he made a bit more of an impact in the attacking front than just about anyone did, including Vako who scored in the second half.

With his performance in his first 45 MLS minutes, Cowell should expect to see a bit more playing time going forward, especially if Almeyda is going to start making some changes to the lineup.

Player Grades

Matias Almeyda (5.5): As committed as Almeyda is to his system and tactics, he had no answer against Minnesota on Saturday and it showed. Even with the subs of Salinas and Cowell at halftime, and Wondolowski later on, nothing else seemed to change and Minnesota continued to outclass the Earthquakes at home.

Daniel Vega (4.5): Vega’s had poor performances at times last year, but Saturday’s loss against the Loons easily ties as his worst performance in goal during his short time in San Jose so far. Although two of the first half goals were more on his backline being simply inept, he looked sluggish and late responding to any shots by Minnesota. Vega missed saves that most top-tier, even mid-tier MLS ‘keepers should make and San Jose has to hope that he just had a bad day and that this was not something that’ll get worse.

Tommy Thompson (6): Thompson drew the penalty in the first half which led to Eriksson’s penalty kick to tie the match at 1-1 in the 18th minute, but like many of the Earthquakes attacking front, he couldn’t really create as much as anyone would’ve liked to see.

Guram Kashia (4): Part of the problem on the day was the inability of the Earthquakes’ backline to contain anything. Ike Opara beat him and Alanis on the opening goal in the 13th minute, and he committed the penalty that led to the fourth goal for the Loons, tackling Opara in the box late in the first half. Even though Vega saved the initial penalty, Kashia was late to cover Robin Lod, who knocked in the rebound off of Vega’s initial save on the penalty. He was eventually subbed out for Wondolowski late, but the damage had already been done.

Oswaldo Alanis (5): Alanis took a few shots that went just wide of goal in the first half, however, Opara beat him on his headed goal to open the scoring for Minnesota in the first half, and he wasn’t able to get to the ball on Opara’s second goal midway through the second half. As someone who was brought in to improve the play in the backline, it’s easy to expect more out of him, especially since he’s someone that played and won under Almeyda when both were back at Chivas.

Nick Lima (5.5): Lima has had an up-and-down time since Almeyda took over the Earthquakes, and Saturday was another down match. He and Eriksson got absolutely torched on Jan Gregus’ goal in the 26th minute and he was subbed out at halftime for Shea Salinas. Considering that he’s a national team player, you’d really expect more out of him in his fourth season and none of that showed on Saturday.

Cristian Espinoza (6): Espinoza had a few runs and tried to create a few chances, but he seemed pretty quiet overall on the day.

Jackson Yueill (5): Much like the rest of the Earthquakes, Yueill didn’t have his greatest day on the pitch either. Besides not being able to help create chances, he also couldn’t really help defend against the Loons attacking front as well.

Magnus Eriksson (5.5): Eriksson did well to hit the penalty kick to equalize the match, but that’s all he was really able to do on a poor night.

Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili (6): Vako caught a huge break on his goal the deflected in, however, he took on too many 2v1 and 3v1 scenarios when trying to create and didn’t pass the ball to open teammates who would’ve had better chances on goal. Nothing new for him, however.

Andrés Rios (5): Rios had a few runs that he could’ve capitalized on with better service, but other than that he was next to non-existent on the day.

Danny Hoesen (4): If Rios was next to non-existent, Hoesen was definitely non-existent for San Jose on the day. His poor performance on Saturday could cost him starts in the next few matches is Almeyda does, in fact, decide to make changes to the lineup.

Chris Wondolowski (5): Wondolowski came into the game as the final sub in the 63rd minute and tried. However, he was beat by Opara on his second goal in the 71st minute that iced the match for the Loons.

Shea Salinas (5): Salinas came in and helped create from the wing, providing some service for some potential chances for the Earthquakes in the second half, but not too much of a factor.

Cade Cowell (6.5): The Earthquakes veterans are excited about Cowell and on Saturday we got to see why. Although he didn’t score in his debut, Cowell created more potential chances than just about any other Earthquakes on the day and flashed a ton of promise to go forward.


  1. Spot on…

    Hope to see some changes against Philly…

    Almeyda needs to bench some very high priced players…I’d be fine if he gave Rios, Errickson and Vako a rest and moved Hoesen up top where he should be playing with Wondo underneath him. Need to get Judson back on as the 6 and let Yueill create without having him protect the back line.

    Cowell needs to be on the field…he was the Quakes best attacker by far. Very impressive considering the Minnesota defenders were athletic and physical.

    Like last season, I think Almeyda is giving the big money players a chance to state their case or hang themselves…needs a much quicker hook this season.


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