The San Jose Earthquakes entered the Mikael Stahre era on Saturday, and two players did their part to inaugurate it in style.
Valeri "Vako" Qazaishvili had a goal and two assists and Danny Hoesen had two goals in the Quakes' 3-2 victory over Minnesota United to open the 2018 MLS regular season on Saturday at Avaya Stadium. The goals capped off stretches of sustained, incisive attacking play for San Jose, and seem to demonstrate the fruits of general manager Jesse Fioranelli's labor.
And that's where this story begins, not necessarily with Stahre. Time will tell how the Swedish manager settles into MLS and the Earthquakes, but Fioranelli has been transforming the team's identity through his rosters since he arrived last year. The prior Quakes rosters, coached by Frank Yallop and Dominic Kinnear, were known as tough, gritty teams. They could beat opponents — often on last-second goals — while mucking things up and being a pain to play against.
The problem was that with recent changes in rosters and quality of play league-wide, "tough-as-nails" could only get teams so far. Enter Fioranelli. Signings like Hoesen (as a 26-year-old from Holland) and Vako (from the small nation of Georgia but also playing in the Netherlands), indicated a change was afoot.
Last season, as the Earthquakes endured a topsy-turvy season in the initial steps of their metamorphosis, Vako scored five goals and two assists in just 13 games after arriving midseason as a Designated Player, while Hoesen showed promise in notching five goals and five assists in 32 league games. Hoesen was transferred permanently as a Targeted Allocated Money (TAM) player this offseason, and his loan "audition" was over. Big things were expected from the duo, and they showed a glimpse of what's possible in the win over Minnesota.
In the preseason, Hoesen explained the European coaching staff brought in alongside Stahre would be good for his game, as well as his teammates.
“Obviously, I have played in Europe my whole life, so I kind of know how the European coaches work and think about the game,” said Hoesen to Center Line Soccer last month. “It’s been a good influence on the group. They make everything as clear as possible, and they are doing a good job. They are trying to get some aspects in our game that we were missing last year, and so far it is looking really good.”
For what it's worth, in the same article, Chris Wondolowski — the league's second all-time leading goalscorer — said he thought Hoesen had a good shot at winning the MLS Golden Boot this year.
With last year's experience under their belts, Vako and Hoesen have had time to get accustomed to the league, their teammates and life in California. Now, the task is to maintain the momentum of Saturday's sparkling performance for the rest of 2018.