It’s often one of the toughest dilemmas for coaches heading into a big match, particularly against a fearsome opponent: Do you stick with what you’ve done and who you’ve been? Or do you adjust in order to blunt your adversary’s strengths?
Despite plenty of questions about the suitability of his high-tempo man-marking philosophy for the unique circumstances of the MLS is Back Tournament, San Jose Earthquakes head coach Matias Almeyda kept faith in the principles his team have so diligently embraced over the past year and a half as they locked horns with the Seattle Sounders on Friday night.
His Quakes pushed the tempo against the reigning champs, flying into tackles and taking risks all over the pitch as we’ve come to expect under “Pelado.” That hard labor earned them the opportunity to play a bit, as they bossed possession and created a majority of the game’s scoring chances, with deep-lying distributor Jackson Yueill dictating the proceedings impressively.
Afterwards Almeyda pronounced himself content with his squad’s commitment and bravery, as well as the 0-0 draw that it reaped.
“I'm very satisfied with what the players gave, and for their interpretation – because when one plays soccer, you don’t just play, you have to interpret what you’re doing,” said the charismatic Argentine in his postgame press conference.
“They’ve had excellent willingness ever since we were in San Jose and we gave them their at-home workouts, and their willingness to come to Orlando 15 days early. We’re satisfied because the opponent is the current champion, so we were at the same level as the champions; there were moments when we were dominating. There were also moments where we suffered from their individual and collective parts, but in general I’m very happy for my players.”
The Northern Californians were the first to arrive in Orlando because of limitations on their ability to train as a group back home, and Almeyda seems to have put his famed motivational skills to good use to keep the group focused and motivated in a testing situation.
“I want to highlight the professionalism that all the boys have had,” said Quakes goalkeeper Daniel Vega. “I think that is the key to the commitment that we have as a team, how committed we were to this tournament, with our situation. To keep training to the maximum during this time is something that fills me with pride.”
It’s a tribute of sorts to the Quakes that their style forced last year’s MLS Cup winners out of their comfort zone as much as the reverse.
“I always felt that this was going to be the most difficult match. Number one, obviously being the first game in a long time, number two being the unorthodox style of San Jose,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan. “Credit to them, coming here two weeks in advance, they’re a very fit team … we were able to come out with the tie and we had a few really good chances. But in the end, a difficult game.”