Were it not for a world-class showing from Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada, the San Jose Earthquakes likely would have celebrated head coach Luchi Gonzalez’s first win on MLS is Back weekend.
That milestone moment had to wait for Matchday 2, though, and it came before a sellout crowd at PayPal Park in Saturday evening’s home opener.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC took a first-half lead through Alessandro Schöpf, but a header by Jeremy Ebobisse and a near-post strike by defender Carlos Akapo earned the hosts a 2-1 comeback win. Just like that, celebrations began.
“We took all the lessons from the Atlanta game,” said center back Jonathan Mensah, acquired in a trade from the Columbus Crew last month. “Coming back home and playing in front of our fans, we just wanted to win, and that is what we did tonight. … This team is an ambitious team and young group of guys that are eager and hungry to succeed.”
The scoreline was flipped from Matchday 1 (2-1 road loss), with Ebobisse’s first goal of the year undone by two second-half stoppage-time goals that earned Almada the year’s first Player of the Matchday presented by Continental Tire award.
This time, San Jose roared back to earn three points and stayed committed to their style of play.
“Credit to the guys to not stop, to not give up, to be relentless in their attitudes, their beliefs, their energy, their intensity,” Gonzalez said. “We have to be really proud of them. And for us to come back down one and win 2-1 shows character. It will be a good reference point for us moving forward for the rest of the season.”
Gonzalez’s first win in San Jose arrives roughly 200 days after he was hired, not formally taking the helm until after the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The former FC Dallas manager was an assistant on then-US men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter’s staff, and he stayed onboard through their Round of 16 trip in Qatar.
But Gonzalez is now full-systems go with San Jose, integrating significant newcomers in goalkeeper Daniel, Mensah and defensive midfielder Carlos Gruezo. It’s all geared toward raising the collective level of a holdover group that last made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in 2020.
On that road, Gonzalez hailed how San Jose “can be playing at our best or not and we can still be a dangerous team.” Mensah just hopes they don’t need too many more furious comebacks this year.
“I believe the sense of urgency changed,” the Ghanaian World Cup veteran defender said. “Of course, we could’ve started better, but being a goal down you need to do anything you can to come back and win the game. We sensed it right away that we needed to change gears and we did.”