Matias Almeyda has constantly preached patience as he instills his style in his San Jose Earthquakes team. On Saturday, fans saw why it could well be worth the wait as the Quakes dismantled the Portland Timbers, 3-0, for their first win of the 2019 season.
After a miserable 2018, the excitement around Almeyda's appointment lifted the spirits of San Jose fans, only for that high to quickly wear off as the team dropped its first four games of the new campaign including three by multi-goal margins. And while the Quakes showed hints here and there of a renewed drive and promising attacking play, scoring the first goal in two of their four losses, it finally all game together at Avaya Stadium against the winless Timbers.
“Today we finish with a win and everything is much nicer. But we did play well during some minutes in past matches, without having as many chances at goal as we did today,” Almeyda told reporters after the win over Portland. “That's why we played with three forwards and one attacking midfielder and today we saw that style of play that we are looking for. Now we need to go deeper and hold on to this. I really liked the intensity, how they attacked from the sides, how they combined inside, the patience we showed to hold the game and move the ball from one side to another.”
One of the most-discussed new aspects of Almeyda's takeover in the South Bay has been his implementation of a man-marking scheme across the field. It's certainly turned a few heads, but the Argentine cautioned against mischaracterizing how his team set up on Saturday.
“People think that our whole system is man to man, and that's not true,” argued Almeyda. “We play mainly with one free player at the back and depending on where his forward is, he goes and marks and the other defender becomes free. The defenders were used to playing in a line, and honestly, I don't like that. I think it's like playing at risk all the time. So, with this change in system, it will take some time to adapt. … I told my players to be reversible, they should play but also mark their players. So that responsibility was shown by everyone.”
Almeyda did praise Quakes midfielder Anibal Godoy for being the primary protagonist in shutting down Timbers playmaker Diego Valeri, limiting the 2017 league MVP's touches and keeping him off the scoresheet (with a little help from a Daniel Vega penalty save in the second half). The former Chivas, River Plate and Banfield manager said that while Valeri was a “great player,” Godoy played a “very smart” game against him.
Of note in Almeyda's starting XI was the inclusion of forward Danny Hoesen in place of club captain Chris Wondolowski at the No. 9 position, his first start after four games coming off the bench. The move played dividends, as Hoesen looked lively and bagged one of San Jose's goals, helped in part by a deft backheel in the buildup.
“Nick has the same opportunities as everyone else. Today, Tommy Thompson is doing very well; he's taking advantage of the position I'm putting him at,” Almeyda said. “Nick had started the season, but, unfortunately, he had some defensive errors that turned into goals. Now, we have other [players] who are going to challenge him and make him regain his confidence and form.
“Nick was also accustomed to a totally different playing style, and it's going to take time [for him to adapt]. But yes, we like Nick a lot. We know the poeple like him a lot and we do too, We will put him in conditions that will allow him to be national team Nick.”
The lineup adjustments ultimately bore fruit for the Quakes, who will be looking to build on the win when the visit the Houston Dynamo next Saturday (3 pm ET | Univision, Twitter). According to Hoesen, they also helped spark one of San Jose's most complete performances in quite some time.
“We wanted to bring a lot of energy,” said Hoesen. “We put some new guys in the team that obviously want to play and fight for their spots. The mentality has always been the same even though people from outside started to get frustrated and upset with the team, but that's normal. We always kept believing in ourselves. If you work hard and believe in what you do, the results will come.”