The San Jose Earthquakes enter Saturday’s Quarterfinal match against Minnesota United FC looking to prove the doubters wrong. While the club was credited with having a brilliant head coach that has an eye for tournament-style play, and a challenging defensive scheme that can cause havoc, most experts around the soccer community did not have the Earthquakes still fighting in the tournament come August.
But here we are in the Quarterfinals and the Earthquakes have emerged not only as one of the most fun teams to watch but suddenly one of the favorites to win it all. A relentless work ethic, tireless stamina and an attack that’s grabbing as many headlines as the often-discussed man-marking defense have put San Jose on the map in a big, big way.
Defender Nick Lima spoke on Thursday about the team’s approach this weekend.
“I think there is a lot of motivation coming from a lot of different areas, one being to play [Minnesota] again, another being to hit the Quarterfinals, and us to keep showing ourselves as a team and everyone in this locker room that we are making progress and on the right path to the one that we want to be,” Lima said via virtual press conference. “For us, that is the biggest motivation piece, where we know what we can be, where we deserve to be, and we have no belief in us that we are not going to continue with this tournament.”
Lima, when asked about the team’s seemingly overnight shift from underdogs to favorites in the tournament, had the following to say.
“I think I would be lying if I said it’s not nice to get a little recognition, but as far as changing the mindset, no. We have to come out with that same mindset that we are the underdogs, to continue having that chip on our shoulder in games that I think is part of our identity and the San Jose culture from the past until now, and Never Say Die. It’s something that we will always hold as part of our values and I think it doesn’t change a whole lot. We approach a game the same way; we go forward with the intention of winning that game one game at a time. Next up is Minnesota. As we go along in the tournament, I think there will be more focus towards us, but then that just makes us more disciplined and stick to our game plan in the same way.”
The Quakes most certainly still have a bad taste in their mouth from their most recent match against Minnesota back on March 7. While the players on the field would likely say the final result was not indicative of the 90 minutes, a 5-2 result is unlikely to make any of them feel great. In fact, after defeating Minnesota in each of their first four meetings, the Earthquakes have dropped each of the last three including the aforementioned game back in March.
Winger Cristian Espinoza, who has added scoring to his repertoire this competition, reaffirmed that sentiment on Thursday.
“I think that game, beyond the result and even though it was great for them, was not what was seen on the field,” the pacey Argentine said. “I think we had good shots and play that match, but we were just not able to convert them. I think we need to go out the same way we have been doing, with the same intensity and focus on our game and not what happens with the opponent.”
Minnesota did not enjoy its start to Major League Soccer, finishing with one of the league’s worst records during its inaugural season in 2017, but has quickly turned the corner with a number of smart acquisitions all over the field. Minnesota is now regarded as a team that should be consistently competing for playoff appearances.
The club is still undefeated across all competitions in 2020 with a 4-0-2 record. They are the only team in the league without a loss thus far in 2020 (excluding FC Dallas due to their lack of participation in the MLS is Back Tournament). Despite their undefeated record and place in the Quarterfinals, many believe Minnesota has still underperformed this tournament. After a win in their opening match against Sporting Kansas City, United FC have drawn three consecutive matches (in regulation), ultimately inching past Columbus in the Round of 16 on penalties.
San Jose, on the other hand, is rolling like a round rock on a steep hill. A hard-fought scoreless draw against the defending MLS Cup champions has been followed up with three consecutive wins in which 11 goals were scored, including a 5-2 victory over Real Salt Lake in the Round of 16.
“We have been here for almost five weeks so we can stay two more and go all the way through the final,” Magnus Eriksson said after Monday’s match. “That’s our goal. We enjoy it here. We play great as a team and enjoy every minute together, so I am really happy being here. I think a lot of guys are very happy to be here so we make the best out of the situation and we’ll try to go as far as we can.”
Saturday’s match, presented by Intermedia, kicks off at 5 p.m. PT and will be broadcast live on ESPN2.