The San Jose Earthquakes executed a seamless preseason victory over USL Affiliate Reno 1868 on Saturday afternoon, led by first-half braces from Danny Hoesen and offseason-signing Magnus Eriksson. The 4-0 win showcased multiple aspects of new coach Mikael Stahre’s tactical approach, including his high-press and buildup, but also revealed shortcomings that the team have three weeks to address before opening day.
The Quakes kicked off at a high tempo, forcing errors from Reno with a hard press. Eriksson displayed particular energy down the right wing and even Vako, though often reticent to track back, harassed his full-back. Stahre has deployed the high press throughout his coaching career and captain Chris Wondolowski told Quakes Talk it will be a pillar of his tactical approach in San Jose.
“[The high press is] one of the many staples of how we want to build,” he said. “We talk about building a house and one of the many frames, the main beam, is pressing: when to press and when to set our line. It’s going to spur our offense. I think we have the talent to build out of the back, spread it open and possess it, but I think that we’re most dangerous when we win the ball forty yards from goal and go from there. That’s something we’re going to continue to work on.”
The trick worked a charm in the fifth minute as the press forced a stray pass from Reno, which Wondolowski intercepted and played to Hoesen. The Dutchman then cut onto his left foot and buried a cool finish from the edge of the area, his first goal of the preseason.
The home side’s dominance subsided after Hoesen’s second goal, allowing Reno to fire at Andrew Tarbell from around the penalty area. San Jose withdrew their high press, with Stahre emphasizing their adaptability in defense as critical to the tactic’s effectiveness.
“Sometimes you have to press high, sometimes you have to stay back a little bit,” Stahre told Quakes Talk. “You can’t full-court press for two-times-forty-five minutes, it’s impossible. But we tried to win the ball quite high and it’s really important to have a counter-press when we lose the ball and take it back immediately. I think we performed well in that area today.”
The Quakes attempted to play out of the back with more patience, but the absence of Anibal Godoy – in Panama to handle his visa – hindered their fluidity. Center-back Yeferson Quintana appeared somewhat uncomfortable with the ball at his feet, often playing into pressure or losing the ball (though a pair of exquisite diagonal balls showed the potential for a direct route forward). Harold Cummings saw less of the ball by comparison, perhaps because he moved it quicker. The intimidating pair were aerially dominant but rather lacking in pace and somewhat flat, which could leave room for a quick opposing forward to exploit.
Reno, however, couldn’t capitalize on San Jose’s lapses. Hoesen fired home a second for the Quakes from the rebound of Nick Lima’s curling effort and Eriksson finished Vako’s assist shortly thereafter, snuffing Reno’s brief renaissance. Vako was San Jose’s chief creator in the midfield, tucking inside as Shea Salinas bombed down the left from full-back. The Georgian was constantly seeking to open onto his right foot, curling wide multiple times and striking the base of the post on another occasion. His assist for Eriksson was more selfless, squaring the ball at the end of a winding run through the box.
Eriksson netted another towards the end of the half, nipping in behind his defender to bury the rebound of another effort from Lima. Although the Swede found his spots well, he had a long touch at times and struggled to connect with Lima down the right flank. Perhaps sensing such, Stahre started Eriksson in a deeper central role the second half.
Wondolowski also joined the mix in the midfield as Hoesen made darting runs in behind the lines, though the captain indicated that Stahre is nixing his brief stint as a central play-maker last season. “[Mikael] keeps stressing to me to stay in the box and I’ll continue to do that,” he said. “I’ll definitely find myself on some chances, I had a couple today.”
The second half was more subdued than the first as Stahre rolled out his second lineup. Notably, midfielder Eric Calvillo and Simon Dawkins were entirely absent from the starting eleven, although Stahre dismissed his omissions as pragmatic as opposed to indicative.
“For the moment we have almost thirty players and today it was important for me to give some players more minutes,” he said. “So [Calvillo] was out of the team today but he will play for us in the future for sure.”
Dawkins’ future, on the other hand, appears far more uncertain.