“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
The great British poet Lord Tennyson penned these infamous words back in 1849, but their optimistic wisdom still rings true today, particularly when it comes to the Earthquakes’ run in the U.S. Open Cup. Despite a heartbreaking semifinal loss that saw the Quakes eliminated from the Cup on penalties, it was still better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all. Whether it was players rising to the occasion or finally ending several bad streaks in the tournament, the Open Cup produced plenty of silver linings to outweigh the sting of elimination. In no particular order, here are five positive takeaways that the Quakes can use fuel the rest of their season.
1. Andrew Tarbell steps up in goal
Domestic cup tournaments present head coaches with a great opportunity to give their backup goalkeepers some vital playing time and the U.S. Open Cup was no different. Chris Leitch started Tarbell in all four of the Quakes’ matches and the Louisiana native took his chance with aplomb. Tarbell was solid in goal throughout the tournament, including a heroic performance during the Quakes’ semifinal match against Sporting Kansas City where he recorded 11 saves and became the first goalkeeper ever to save a penalty from Benny Feilhaber as an SKC player. His performance earned him his first MLS start days later against the Houston Dynamo, a match where he made yet another penalty save to deny Mexican international Erik “Cubo” Torres from getting on the score sheet. Tarbell’s recent rise has fueled competition for the starting goalkeeper spot, something Leitch surely won’t mind.
2. Rookie Jackson Yueill shines in his debut
The Quakes drafted Jackson Yueill No. 6 overall in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft after the midfielder impressed GM Jesse Fioranelli at the MLS Combine. Fans finally got to see why when the rookie scored just four minutes into his professional debut during the Quakes’ 2-0 win over the San Francisco Deltas in the Fourth Round of the Open Cup. The 20-year-old UCLA product started all four of the Quakes Open Cup matches, showing flashes of brilliance, notching a goal and an assist and demonstrating tactical nous in his play distribution. His performances during the tournament have earned him several MLS starts and turned him into a regular contender for the starting XI each week, adding much-needed depth to the Quakes’ midfield.
3. Danny Hoesen finds his groove
When Quakes forward Danny Hoesen was signed earlier this year, there was much hope that he’d be able to make an immediate impact on the field. However, the former Ajax player was limited to a substitute role throughout the first nine weeks of his MLS career, recording just one assist and no starts in that time. As with Tarbell, the Open Cup gave Hoesen an opportunity to make a case for himself and he did not let it go to waste. The Dutch striker started all but one of the Quakes’ Open Cup matches, scoring a team-leading three goals from four appearances, including two game-winners. His form carried over into MLS as well, as Hoesen recorded a goal and two assists in league play in-between his Open Cup participation.
4. The monkeys got ditched
Entering the 2017 edition of the Cup, the Quakes had some unpleasant streaks going that they were not proud of. They had not beaten Sounders FC in Open Cup play since the club joined MLS, and worse yet, they had zero wins against archenemy LA Galaxy in the competition. Both monkeys were thankfully dumped off their back this year after 2-1 and 3-2 wins, respectively, against these opponents. The icing on the cake was that the Quarterfinal win against the Galaxy came just days after a dramatic, last-gasp Quakes victory over LA at the annual California Clásico at Stanford Stadium.
5. Quakes return to the semifinals
Prior to their encounter with Sporting Kansas City, the Quakes had only reached the semis of the Open Cup once before during the 2004 edition of the tournament. Though the ultimate goal wasn’t reached, the team can take solace in their strong performance this year. For many of the players, this was their first sample of the Open Cup and the taste of getting so close to the final has no doubt left them hungrier than before. That can only bode well for next year.