When the San Jose Earthquakes walked off the field at Banc of California Stadium on June 20, tears were flowing down the cheeks of Cristian Espinoza. The 24-year-old ran LAFC’s defense ragged, sprinted down every long ball, and gave everything he had despite clearly being a target for physical play over 90 minutes.
The Quakes were eliminated from U.S. Open Cup play but strongly felt they were the better team on the night. Espinoza’s assist to Vako gave San Jose an early lead, but the visitors would go on to rue the several missed chances that kept LAFC in the match. Los Angeles’ young keeper Pablo Sisniega finished with eight saves, many of them spectacular efforts.
“I think we played a very good match that day,” explained Espinoza on Tuesday. “Obviously, the opponent has many players of a high caliber, they have great players on the bench too, which is what I think gave them the result. It basically comes down to playing the same way we did in that match because we played well. We just need to make adjustments in those details that resulted in them scoring. We’ll adjust those details and we’ll have the same commitment and effort during the 95 minutes of the match.”
The rematch in LA has clearly been circled on San Jose’s calendar since the moment the bus pulled out of Banc of California Stadium that night. This budding rivalry has had everything from late comebacks to blowouts to back-and-forth action, unfortunately with very little going the Earthquakes’ way to date.
Head coach Matias Almeyda and his side will show their rivals to the south the same respect they show every opponent, regardless of their place in the standings. Mexican midfielder Carlos Vela is one of the players commanding the most respect.
“I only have positive thoughts about [Vela],” said Almeyda. “Honestly, it’s admirable how he’s been going about it, the effort he is putting in. He has demonstrated that he can make a difference with his effort. He had the possibility of playing in other leagues, but he chose to play here, and he is producing.”
Producing might be an understatement as the 30-year-old from Cancún ranks first in MLS in goals (24) and tied for second in assists (15). His 39 combined goals and assists is already an MLS record and he’s a shoo-in for the league’s MVP award. If San Jose are going to prevail on Wednesday, they will have to keep the former Arsenal and Real Sociedad man in check.
The Earthquakes have been spinning their tires a little in the past few weeks. Despite playing well enough to win every game, San Jose has earned just one point in their last three matches – failing to hold leads in two of them.
Wednesday’s match could come down to one thing: finishing the chances they create. San Jose is 9-0-2 when scoring at least twice; 2-9-3 when they don’t.
The match will be broadcast live on Univision, Twitter, KNBR 1050 and 1370 KZSF.