If cracks started to appear in the San Jose Earthquakes’ locker room after a 4-1 midweek thrashing against the Chicago Fire, they were papered over in time for the Quakes to post an impressive 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers on Saturday night. General Manager Jesse Fioranelli joined his team in their effort to regroup, organizing a team dinner in Santana Row on Friday night as a rallying cry for the squad, a “family” meeting of sorts.
“It was nothing really about tactics or about the game,” said striker Danny Hoesen. “It was about getting together and having a meal and feeling like a family. That’s the most important [thing] in a team, you have to feel good and confident with each other. That’s what the dinner was about.”
It’s not the first time they’ve held such events. Captain Chris Wondolowski has mentioned previous players-only meetings and club dinners as a source of unity and motivation during their playoff push, especially at such a crucial juncture of the season.
“Obviously after a loss everybody is upset and everybody is angry so we just wanted to make sure we were still a good team outside of the field,” said Hoesen. “If outside of the field is good, inside of the field is good.”
Leitch made multiple key changes to the starting eleven to help spark the turnaround. Danny Hoesen started up top in place of Marco Ureña and the Dutchman’s versatility offered the Quakes a variety of attacking outlets. “It’s more familiar to me,” he told Quakes Talk. “I like to find my own spaces and make my own runs and if you play on the side there’s not a much space. I felt good today, I was happy to play there and, hopefully, I showed enough to keep playing there.”
Hoesen scored early in the second half on a quick turn, adding to Vako’s first-half strike. Vako also earned glowing reviews from coach Chris Leitch, who rated the Georgian international’s performance as his best in a Quakes shirt.
The return of Darwin Ceren offered the Quakes more mettle in the midfield, which was instrumental in keeping Portland striker Diego Valeri off the scoresheet for the first time in ten games. However stoic Leitch may usually be when addressing the press, as a former defender he was eager to dissect the specifics of their game-plan in regards to Valeri.
“You can watch film on him all day but you really don’t know every place he’s going to pop up,” he told Quakes Talk. “He can pop into those soft little holes right off your backline but then he can also stretch you… Valeri does that very well. I thought between Darwin [Ceren] and Anibal [Godoy] as well as Flo [Jungwirth] and Victor [Bernardez], they did a really good job of identifying that mark in the box, both running with Valeri and others from the midfield into the back line as well as passing them on at times. That was a pretty key part of our game plan.”
However, Leitch’s managerial nous was called into question after his lack of tactical substitutes likely led to several slips offered the Timbers several late chances to get back into the match. Leitch acknowledged his mistake post-match, saying: “If I had to do it over again, maybe I’d make one or two more [subs].”
It’s not as if Leitch is shy of rotation, at least not when it comes to his starting eleven, as he has significantly altered his squad week-to-week in search of a winning formula. However, one key decision – to favor Andrew Tarbell in goal over long-time starter David Bingham – has seemed curiously permanent.
When pressed on his goalkeeper selection by Quakes Talk, he emphasized that the move was a “staff decision,” which potentially suggests a direct influence of General Manager Jesse Fioranelli into the selection process.
Despite the impressive rebound against Portland, the Quakes face an uphill battle to secure a playoff berth. They’ll need at least four points from their final two matches of the season, which requires a result at Western Conference leaders Vancouver Whitecaps. Given the Quakes’ road form in recent months, their season is at risk of being over when they next return to Avaya Stadium for their final match of the regular season, versus Minnesota United.