SAN JOSE, Calif. – Four weeks into the season, the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs were as far away as the stars in the sky for the 0-4 San Jose Earthquakes: slightly visible, but seemingly untouchable.
With his Marcelo Bielsa-inspired approach, however, Matias Almeyda, little by little, chipped away at the odds stacked against him and his team. By midsummer, the Quakes were running in second place behind eventual Supporters’ Shield winners LAFC in the Western Conference.
As fall sets in, the Quakes are caught in the midst of a five-game losing streak, sit the outside of the postseason places and need a road win over the Portland Timbers on Sunday (4 pm ET | ESPN – Full TV and streaming info) to reach the playoffs in the Argentine's first season in the league.
With all the ebbs and flows in mind, does Sunday’s result define whether San Jose’s season was a success or failure?
"No,” Almeyda told MLSsoccer.com this week. “I see success in achieving what we had promised, which was to make this team competitive and perform the same way at home and on the road, aside from the results.
“In reality, the team took a big step forward as individuals, as a collective and as a club,” he added. “From our perspective, there was a fantastic atmosphere in our last match.”
Almeyda repeatedly stressed the grandiose opportunity that anyone and everyone at Earthquakes Way would have signed up for in preseason: a win-and-you’re-in scenario on Decision Day presented by AT&T.
It speaks to the mental switch that has happened in San Jose over the course of months, which for Earthquakes goalkeeper Daniel Vega, transcends success or failure.
“There has been a change in mentality since last year, in which today we have a winning mentality,” Vega said. “And it’s good that risks are taken and, today, we are on the last game trying to achieve the objectives. I would not define the season as successful or a failure. For me this has been a very good year where San Jose has found a style of play – it looks that way on the field, and people like us [for it]. People are excited, which means that San Jose has shown a very big change in what it is this year.”
So, will Almeyda’s first season in charge be determined as a success or failure at Providence Park on Sunday? Maybe for onlookers, but certainly not for San Jose. They’ve come too far, and if anything, will continue to enjoy a season no one promised them.
“We put ourselves in a huge opportunity, a good opportunity, and I think that it’s a phenomenal environment and we’re going to go get the job done and how this group knows how to. It’s exciting,” fullback Nick Lima said ahead of San Jose’s biggest game of the year.
If they do get the job done, it will be just the second time since 2012 that the Quakes have reached the postseason.