Coming into Saturday’s game, only a win would do for the Quakes. On a bit of a downward spiral, it was time for the team to come home and reestablish form, going into a crucial stretch.
Despite all the noise, the boys showed up and gave their fans much-needed hope.
The return to MLS play has been especially tough for the Quakes. Each passing week has gotten worse and worse for the team, so they needed a good win fast.
Returning home after a brief road trip, Luchi’s men were to face Real Salt Lake, with both teams aiming to continue their playoff push. RSL started the season well, hovering solidly around the top 4. However, like the Quakes, the second half of the season has been rough for the Utahns.
Like the Quakes, RSL had only won one game since the MLS restart and were coming off that win. Coached by Pablo Mastroeni and headlined by star Chicho Arango, this is a deadly side waiting to catch fire. Additionally, RSL will likely be the Quakes’ biggest challenger for the final few playoff spots.
To say that life has been difficult for the Quakes would be an understatement as of late. A once terrifying offense has completely stalled, with multiple players suffering droughts. Luchi has tried to figure things out, but every change has been a little too late.
Instead of allowing this to become another annoying game, Luchi’s side was able to dominate RSL and finish off their chances. Now, the team is well suited to capture, at the very least, a wild card spot.
Despite struggling in the past few weeks, the offense hummed against RSL. Thanks in part to some subtle tactical changes done by Luchi, the front line was much more creative.
Since the restart, Monteiro has been pushed further up the pitch in order to provide another dimension to the attack. Essentially, it’s to give the team another outlet to the team when Espinoza is covered. Unfortunately, it hadn’t really worked in previous weeks.
Against RSL, it all finally clicked. Monteiro was excellent in his linkup play with Espinoza and Ebobisse, but it was really his runs that were the deadliest. Multiple times throughout the game, he would open up space for Espinoza or Ebobisse to run in behind him. This just allowed them to continue getting good looks.
Another interesting development with Gruezo out has been the growing role for Tsakiris. The youngster looked great tonight and was able to roam across the pitch and be another outlet. Which, in turn, gave Yueill the chance to affect the game from deep.
Ebobisse has had a really mixed season. He started the season on fire, only to go on a nine-game goalless drought. Despite the form that Espinoza has been on, he has struggled to finish his chances.
Saturday’s game was the best of Ebobisse. The striker was exploiting the space RSL was giving him and used it to run onto balls from Espinoza.
San Jose’s MVP does also deserve a quick shoutout, primarily due to that nasty pass to Rodrigues for the second goal. Even as the Quakes have struggled, the Argentine continues to produce for his teammates and should receive votes for league MVP.
Rodrigues’ goal was a reward for just how great he has been this season for San Jose. It’s truly difficult to underscore just how much of an impact player he’s been. Statistically, he’s one of the best defenders in MLS, but it’s really the way he’s made this defense scary that’s impressive.
With him in the back, there’s not really that instability that came with previous Quakes’ backlines. You feel as if any attack will be snuffed out, and he’s continued to show it.
One of the only concerns that came out of this game was the mistakes of Mensah and the weird fit with him and Rodriges. Beason will almost surely be back next week alongside Rodrigues, but Mensah should be performing better, given his reputation. He’s more than capable of being a great backup, but it’s not the role anyone envisioned for him.
Another interesting wrinkle for Luchi will be how to reincorporate Gruezo when he returns from international duty. The team is clearly better with him, but Tsakiris has done really well in a different role while taking his spot. Gruezo should be the starter when he returns, but Tsakiris’ continued development can only be a positive development for the whole team.
Looking at the remainder of their schedule, they will face off against only two teams that are in playoff contention. Minnesota and Nashville will present tough challenges for the Quakes, but beating them will help the team be ready for the playoffs. The remaining teams that they will play are not bad by any means but are even more inconsistent than the Quakes.
Saturday’s victory was a welcome return to form for a Quakes side that has struggled immensely as of late. The offense finally found their groove while the backline continued to look good. Now, the playoff push will continue, but the Quakes are on much better footing.
Player and Manager Ratings
- GK // Daniel- 7
- DF // Akapo- 6
- DF // Mensah- 6
- DF // Rodrigues- 8
- DF // Trauco- 6
- MD // Tsakiris- 7
- MD // Yueill- 7
- MD // Monteiro- 7
- FW // Cowell- 7
- FW // Ebobisse- 8
- FW // Espinoza- 9
- Munie // N/A
- Marie // 6
- Judson // 6
- Akinola // N/A
- Luchi // 7
Photo: San Jose Earthquakes