Valeri Qazaishvili's promising debut a bright spot on dour night for Quakes

HARRISON, N.J. – Valeri Qazaishvili made his anticipated MLS debut on Wednesday night, coming on in the second half and scoring a goal in the San Jose Earthquakes 5-1 loss at the New York Red Bulls. The Georgian international’s debut performance was the silver lining in what was a difficult night for his team.

Qazaishvili came on at halftime after a frustrating opening 45 minutes that saw San Jose fail to capitalize on several opportunities to take the lead. The Red Bulls began to control things in the second half, scoring four goals to send San Jose to their second straight league defeat.

The goal from Qazaishvili – who occupies a Designated Player spot for San Jose – came very much against the run of play. With his team down 3-0 in the 88th minute, he calmly touched home a Jahmir Hyka cross from the left side of the penalty area. 

“I'm happy that I made my debut. It was a good game for me but not a good game for us,” Qazaishvili said after the match. ‘So, we need to forget it as soon as possible and think about Sunday's game.”

Wednesday’s loss dropped San Jose to 1-2-0 in three MLS games under new head coach Chris Leitch, who took over after Dominic Kinnear was dismissed following the team’s 2-1 win against Real Salt Lake on June 24. Both of Leitch’s losses have come on the road, with the Quakes conceding nine goals in the pair of away contests.

“Some people are bothered that maybe it's five goals. We could have shored it up maybe and put an extra guy back there, and maybe it was 3-1. I could care less,” Leitch said. “I would rather try to get back into a game and try to stay on the front foot, try to challenge them and try to get back in the game, than I would just close down shop and stop another goal or two from going in.”

The good news is that a big piece to the equation, at least in the final third, looked promising. Qazaishvili made his unofficial debut last week for San Jose in his team’s 4-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in a friendly. He built on that with his Wednesday showing at Red Bull Arena, showing flashes of why the Earthquakes made him the first DP signing since new GM Jesse Fioranelli took over in January.

The 24-year old has made 25 international appearances and has extensive experience with Vitesse in Holland, and in the Polish and Georgian top flights. While he’s had only a few training sessions with his new teammates, Qazaishvili has left a positive impression. Captain Chris Wondolowski called the Georgian’s insertion into Wednesday’s match “a breath of fresh air.”

Leitch liked what he saw in his player’s first taste of MLS.

“Yeah, it's a tough game to come in to for a new guy we have good expectations on,” Leitch said. “It's really tough for him to come on in this kind of game, away, down, after the stretch that we've had as well.

“So, you know, you've got to give him a couple games. But I thought when he went in there, he showed some good quality. He's only going to get better.”