The San Jose Earthquakes’ run in the MLS is Back Tournament officially came to an end on Saturday, but the team should continue to feel the good vibes of their success in the competition for the remainder of 2020.
Drawn into Group B alongside Seattle Sounders FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and FC Dallas (later replaced by Chicago Fire FC due to positive COVID tests), the Earthquakes were not a trendy pick to move on to the Knockout Stage. Regardless, the team had a self-confidence that could not be denied and an unparalleled sense of togetherness. The off-field camaraderie in the group was staggering to see.
San Jose traveled to Orlando on June 24, becoming the first team inside the bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort. The team traveled early in large part due to their inability to train as a full team here within Santa Clara County.
A scoreless draw in the opener against Seattle turned a few heads, with the defending MLS Cup champions considered the odds-on favorite to prevail in Group B. The Earthquakes then headed into their second match against Vancouver beaming with confidence before falling into a 3-1 deficit on some early self-inflicted errors. Then the Disney magic took over, with three unanswered goals over the last 20 minutes, including a stoppage-time winner by Shea Salinas that Lionel Messi himself would be proud of. The Quakes were wearing their white ‘408 Edition’ kits and gold shorts for the first time.
With four points already under their belt after two games, the Earthquakes were in a comfortable spot heading into the group finale against Chicago. A win would cement their place as group winners; a draw would see them finish at least second; and a loss would likely still see them through. But in traditional Matias Almeyda style, the Quakes went for the win, again in the famed gold shorts, and prevailed 2-0.
The good news is that the 2-0-1 record and +3 GD were best among all Western Conference teams through the Group Stage. The better news is that all three of those results will continue to count towards the regular-season standings once plays resumes.
San Jose drew Real Salt Lake in the Round of 16 and opted to wear the white/gold combo for the third straight game. The Quakes got goals from Magnus Eriksson (2), Andy Rios, Vako and Chris Wondolowski en route to a 5-2 win and spot in the Quarterfinals.
Ultimately, the Quarterfinals marked the end of the road for San Jose, who fell 4-1 to Minnesota United FC. The Loons are the only team to beat the Earthquakes thus far in 2020, doing so on two occasions.
All in all, while players, coaches and staff would have loved to remain in Orlando until the Final, the team’s performance in the competition has to be considered a resounding success. The Quakes were one of the final eight in a 24-team competition and got the farthest they’ve been in a tournament since the 2017 U.S. Open Cup (Semifinals).
As the team continued to progress in the tournament, fan support went along with it. The Earthquakes held a viewing party for every match of the competition and had to begin turning fans away due to capacity restrictions. Even when adding a second viewing party to the Quarterfinal match, both were sold out just minutes after being released to the general public.
Fans of the San Jose Earthquakes should be incredibly proud of their team’s performance and continued development under head coach Matias Almeyda and general manager Jesse Fioranelli. Not only was the club successful on the field, they were also arguably the league’s most entertaining. They scored 12 goals in five games, displayed an ability to come back no matter the deficit, and genuinely enjoyed playing the game as much as we enjoyed watching them.
The plan for the remainder of the 2020 season remains to be seen, but you can be sure the team will be ready to compete.
“I am really proud of the steps forward that we’ve taken in this tournament,” said Tommy Thompson on Saturday. “It was a huge commitment for us to be the first team here, and to stay as long as we did. I think it’s a testament to where this team is at.
“We’re confident and I think the best is yet to come.”