The San Jose Earthquakes return to regular season action in a road match against the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Saturday, July 17. The Quakes look to build on a hard-fought point earned in 2-2 road draw against Minnesota United FC in their most recent match on July 3.
Situated in Commerce City, Colorado, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park sits at an elevation of 5,200 feet above sea level. Altitude and the impact it may have on performance tends to become a common theme in questions coaches and players face ahead of their visits to Colorado.
Earthquakes head coach Matias Almeyda says his side will have no issues acclimating to the environment. Almeyda says the Quakes are most concerned with recovering from the slump in results, finding their form and competing for a playoff berth.
"Regarding the altitude, there is not much to address,” Almeyda said in a press conference on Wednesday. “In my experience as a player, we go and play without giving thought to the altitude. There are physiques that are better at adapting to the altitude, but it should not be an issue. We are focused on improving and moving past the situation we are in. We recognize that we have a challenging opponent ahead of us.”
For Almeyda, the real challenge lies in the opponent they are facing. The Rapids hold a record of 6-3-2 (20 pts.) in 2021 and currently occupy fourth place in the Western Conference.
“I think they are one of the teams that play the best,” said Almeyda. “They are fast and dynamic. They play man-to-man in the back. I was criticized for using man-to-man tactics and they are playing that way often. They are not far from when we played our best using that scheme. Our experience in Colorado includes conceding five goals. We need to be at the same level as the opponent."
The job won’t get any easier for the Earthquakes as the player availability varies. Although Marcos Lopez has returned to San Jose from international duty with Peru following the conclusion of the 2021 Copa America, the Quakes will not be able to call on Jackson Yueill as he competes with the U.S. Men’s National Team in the Concacaf Gold Cup.
Although Yueill is an important piece in Almeyda’s scheme, the Argentine coach is pleased to see the midfielder being called up to represent his country. With changes in the midfield expected to happen, Almeyda is looking at his roster to find the right player that will have to fill Yueill’s role on Saturday.
"He is an important player for us,” Almeyda commented about Yueill. “When I first started talking with him, I told him he had to be a national team player. I try to give him concepts and tools that help him be the player that he is today. It makes me happy to see him defend his country's flag with his game.
“We don't have another Jackson on our roster with similar traits. We have players with different traits, and we will see who can fill his role. On one hand, it makes me happy to see him represent his country, and on the other I want him to finish and play with us."
To earn a result in Colorado, the Quakes will need a plan to break Colorado’s backline. The Rapids boast discipline and strength in their defense, highlighted by five clean sheets and four shutout victories in 2021, three of which have come in their last five matches.
While the Rapids can flex muscle in their defense, the buzz and excitement on San Jose’s end surrounds their latest addition to the roster: defender Nathan. Nathan was praised for the passion and intensity showcased in his MLS debut match against Minnesota.
Defender Tanner Beason believes Nathan has much to bring to the Quakes. Speaking on Nathan in Wednesday’s press conference, he says the Brazilian is working hard to adapt to San Jose’s system of play and build relationships with the coaching staff and his teammates.
“We've all enjoyed our time with Nathan thus far,” Beason said. “He's come into the team and has really been charismatic, trying to learn, and kind of understand the way that we do things here. He wants to build relationships with everyone in the team, get comfortable with people, and put his best foot forward in terms of his play.
“He played with great intensity and passion the other day, and that was awesome to see. It's always fun to play with people that play like that. I'm looking forward to continuing to play alongside him and like I've said before, build a connection and relationship there because I think the more minutes you play with someone, the better understanding you have with that person on the field, and that just then translates to that kind of chemistry and better understanding in the most important moments defensively."
Kickoff from Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is set for 6 p.m. PT and will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Bay Area, KNBR 1050 and 1370 KZSF.