The San Jose Earthquakes were the first team to arrive in Orlando for the MLS is Back tournament, and although they may have been the first to touch ground in Florida, they were the last team to start their training camp leading into the tournament.
After barely two weeks to get back up to speed and 125 days removed from their last match at Earthquakes Stadium back in March (a 5-2 loss to Minnesota United), the Earthquakes seemed to have picked right back up from where they left off following their goal-less draw to the Seattle Sounders Friday night in the tournament opener.
Where Seattle showed moments of rust – most notably Raúl Ruidiaz’s missed goal opportunity on a breakaway against Earthquakes keeper Daniel Vega in the 84th minute – San Jose looked to be in midseason form with their aggressive man-marking style of play, playing that throughout for 99 minutes end-to-end for the first time in a live match since March.
“There were some changes and we tried to keep the same style,” Earthquakes head coach Matias Almeyda said in his post-game press conference. “We were facing no less than the opponent, than the champion, so the challenge from San Jose was a big one keeping in mind we’re just able to practice here in Orlando.
“We saw a team with soul and chances that could’ve won the game.”
The clean sheet was the Earthquakes’ first in 17 matches dating back to last season. However, for a team that allowed seven goals in the first two matches of the season before MLS paused for the COVID-19 pandemic, a clean-sheet against the defending champs isn’t a bad note to re-start on.
The Earthquakes started their training camp for MLS is Back last overall due to the tough restrictions and concerns about the novel coronavirus in Northern California at the time. Even though the players had their at-home workout plans, they weren’t able to train all together until they arrived in Florida.
Although the point earned is just the second total point for an Earthquakes team that could use a win sooner rather than later, Almeyda is still happy with the result against the defending MLS Cup champions, especially with the conditions they’ve had to face the past few weeks.
“I’m very satisfied with what the players gave,” he said. “For moments, we were dominating and for moments we suffered for their individual and collective part. But, generally, I’m very happy for my players.”
“Ever since we started the whole team was committed to doing their best,” Earthquakes goalkeeper Daniel Vega added. “I think today we really had a great game not just on the defensive side, but also on the offensive side as well.
“Every since I came to this team, Matias really put that in us that we had to do our best and I think tonight’s result shows that. We’re happy that we’re back and the team did the best possible tonight.”
To Vega’s credit, he racked up six saves on the night including two key saves on a shot against Nicolas Lodeiro in the 81st minute and the aforementioned save on Ruidiaz’s hesitated shot in the 84th minute, potential late-goal chances that killed the Earthquakes’ chances at necessary at the end of last season to clinch a playoff spot. The Earthquakes lost their last six in a row to end 2019, missing the playoffs after reaching as high as second in the Western Conference behind LAFC.
The Earthquakes had a few chances on that elusive go-ahead goal but were denied time and time by a stellar performance from Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who racked eight clutch saves, including denying a late rocket of a shot by midfielder Jackson Yueill in the second half.
San Jose came in as a massive underdog and dictated the match, keeping 62 percent of the possession compared to Seattle’s 38.
If a scoreless draw is the “best possible” for a San Jose team that only had two weeks total to train, compared to the other clubs in the league, is a draw against a defending champion Sounders side that fielded seven starters from last year’s MLS Cup final, then the Earthquakes are in good shape. They could find themselves in the knockout stages of the tournament if they can continue to play like this against Vancouver on Wednesday, and Chicago Sunday night, especially if they can find wins in the final two matches of the group stage.
Besides, at this point last season this San Jose Earthquakes team was, then, one of, if not the, hottest team in MLS.
But for San Jose to build off of this draw against the Sounders, it will take everyone to not just be in mid-season shape, but to be ready at a moments notice.
“We’re relying on all the guys that we brought on the team,” Yueill said. “We have a really deep squad and we’re relying on every player did play to recover as fast as possible and those who didn’t to be ready.
“We’re really fortunate to come early and a little bit accustomed to the weather and be able to train with one another while we’re here, so I don’t know if its an advantage or not, but we’ll be ready.”