SAN JOSE, Calif. – It’s almost always silly to read too much into any coach’s first match at the helm – even more so if it comes less than 100 hours after said coach has been given the job.
Still, it was hard not to notice the number of seldom-used members of the San Jose Earthquakes who helped make Chris Leitch’s debut Wednesday a victorious one, pushing the club into the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals with a 2-1 triumph against the 10-man Seattle Sounders.
Shea Salinas, making just his second start of the season in all competitions, slotted home a deflected blast from a partially cleared corner kick in the sixth minute to give the Quakes an early lead. Rookie Jackson Yueill, who received just 15 minutes’ worth of MLS playing time under former coach Dominic Kinnear, made the most of a second consecutive USOC start, feeding Danny Hoesen on a one-two move to help spring the Dutchman for his 84th-minute game-winner.
Combine that with the fact that both of the club’s Homegrown signings – attacker Tommy Thompson and defender Nick Lima – were on the pitch, along with young New Zealand international Kip Colvey making his 2017 Quakes debut at wingback, and it’s easy to make a case for Leitch’s ascension giving a chance to some of the less well-utilized members of the roster.
Lining up in a 3-5-2 for the second consecutive USOC match, the Quakes came out aggressively under Leitch, who was moved from technical director to the bench in order to help achieve general manager Jesse Fioranelli’s goal of bending opponents to their will, in the manner of leading clubs worldwide.
“For big stretches, I was really happy with that,” Leitch said. “I think we can do it even more. … In the first half, we did impose ourselves. At times, there was some really, really, really good stuff.”
It all added up to San Jose’s first-ever win against an MLS opponent in USOC play – after 10 consecutive losses – and the Quakes’ first trip to the tournament’s quarterfinals since the club’s Supporters' Shield-winning 2012 season.
“[Leitch is] trying to play a little bit more attacking, with more numbers in the box with crosses,” Hoesen said. “I think it’s a little bit more aggressive.”
Yueill’s pass back to Hoesen was in keeping with the Quakes’ more successful sequences, especially as seen in the first half – even before Sounders midfielder Francisco Narbon’s ejection in the 35th minute.
“Part of my game in and around the box is finding those one-twos, those different type of movements off the ball – not just one person turning and shooting,” Yueill told MLSsoccer.com. “That’s what I like to bring, is those one-twos and combination plays to move the defenders and find open players.”
It remains to be seen if Yueill (20), Thompson (21), Lima (22) and Colvey (23) will be constants in Leitch’s lineup once the club gets back to MLS play – beginning Saturday against LA Galaxy in the California Clasico at Stanford (10:30 pm ET | Univision, Facebook.com, MLS LIVE in Canada) – and veterans such as Darwin Ceren, Florian Jungwirth and Marco Ureña are back from international duty or injury. But doing so could be a long-term boost to help speed the development of the franchise’s youngsters.
“Any coach who will play a lot of young guys – I know with the [absences], it’s hard; we have to play, kind of – but they’re giving us confidence,” Yueill said. “They want us to play and to help the team. So that gives us a lot of confidence to step on the field and win games and continue winning games.”