The San Jose Earthquakes are Texas-bound to face Austin FC in the first ever MLS match at Q2 Stadium on Saturday, June 19. Saturday’s contest will also showcase the first ever match between the Earthquakes and Austin FC, and a reunion with former Quakes players Danny Hoesen, Nick Lima, and Andrew Tarbell.
After three weeks since San Jose’s last match, Earthquakes head coach Matias Almeyda feels optimistic about having maximized that time off to reset and refocus the team ahead of an important phase in the season. Almeyda found this break to be similar to the halt in the 2020 MLS regular season, stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, which came ahead of an inspiring run (3-1-1) in the MLS is Back Tournament.
“The situation in Orlando [in 2020] was really beneficial because it allowed us to live together for a long time, and I try to organize something similar in the preseason,” Almeyda said during a press conference on Wednesday. “This was different because they had days off to enjoy their families, as I asked them to.
“Once they go through the locker room doors, they become focused on our work and game... We’ll try to get the best from everybody and face this part of the season with the same desire that we always have and try to be competitive.”
During the break, Almeyda prioritized the fitness of the players available to him and programmed challenging training sessions. As players were reporting back from international duty, the Argentinian started tuning trainings to incorporate a game plan for Saturday.
“We worked quite a bit on fitness through demanding training sessions,” Almeyda said. “We’ve had some injuries for some players and others were with their national teams, Jackson [Yueill] just got back. We were adapting with the players that were available to us with different exercises.
“Training has been sharper this week. We have been thinking about the opponent. We gave days off for the players to disconnect and reflect and come back refreshed because we are moving into an important phase of the season, and we need to get back to winning.”
As noted by Almeyda, midfielder Jackson Yueill has returned to San Jose after playing a role in the United States Men’s National Team’s championship run in the CONCACAF Nations League tournament.
Yueill affirms that he is ready to jump back in and contribute his grain of sand as the team look to make a complete turnaround from recent performances, beginning on Saturday. Despite being among a different core of players and having to adapt to a different style of play, Yueill expects to easily transition back into Almeyda’s system.
“I think both systems are very different yet very similar,” the midfielder said in a press conference. “I think the fitness level and intensity is similar in both, but the tactics are much different. I think you’re more position oriented with the national team. Understanding those spaces and where you’re supposed to be at the right moments takes some time and I think my first couple of camps with the national team, it was hard to adapt.
“I think the more that I’m with them and the more that I work with Gregg [Berhalter] and the rest of the staff, it’s easier to switch between the two. Here, it’s more man oriented and being close to your marks and being aggressive in the defending aspect of it. At the beginning, it was challenging to go back and forth and try to switch, but both coaching staffs have helped a lot in the transition period of doing that. I enjoy playing in both systems because the staff teaches it really well to the team and the team has really bought in and when that happens, it’s easy to slide in, change and play your best.”
Fellow midfielder Cristian Espinoza also touched on the team’s intent to be as competitive as they can be.
“The team’s culture continues to be the same as always.” Espinoza said. “We’re all striving forward. We know that we have to turn the team’s image around from these last games. In my opinion, I think we played good games in those recent matches. We made a few mistakes, but many times teams take advantage of them, and we weren’t able to finish our chances created. But we’re now working to improve every day, working hard like always and striving forward, and that is the only way that all of our results and team objectives can be achieved.”
Saturday’s match will be observed by many, as it features the MLS debut of Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas and will also be aired nationally. Espinoza says he is unfazed by the circumstances. For the 26-year-old and the club, the main focus is on the opponent they are facing.
“We’re approaching the match with the same attention and the same desire as always, regardless of who the opponent is,” Espinoza said. “The fact that they will be opening their stadium against us does not change our style of play. We have to play a great game because we have a great opponent in front of us, and we have to do things right in order to earn a win on the road.”
Austin FC hold a record of 2-4-2 in their inaugural season in MLS, and currently sit 10th in the Western Conference. Austin is on a five-match winless streak (0-3-2), coming away with draws in their last pair of matches against Seattle Sounders FC (0-0) and Sporting Kansas City (1-1).
Under similar circumstances as the Quakes, with regard to recent results, Austin will be hungry for a win in their first home match, while San Jose seek to ‘spoil the party’.
Kickoff at Q2 Stadium is set for 6 p.m. PT, and will be broadcast on UniMás and TUDN, and aired via radio on KNBR 1050 and 1370 KZSF.