SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose Earthquakes are currently riding a fine run of form. Unbeaten in their last four, having only lost once in their last nine games, it’s polar opposite to what they were one month into the Matias Almeyda era.
Their confidence is palpable, and they hope to carry it into the same tournament they crashed out of after just one game last year: the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
"To be honest, it could be a preseason game … against anyone, we want to go out and win it," said Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski, who has scored eight goals in their last four games, after Saturday’s 2-2 draw vs. FC Dallas. "That's our mentality right now. We want to win the Open Cup. We know it's five games to win it. We feel that this tournament tests your depth and, even today, it shows where our depth is right now. We are one of the deepest teams I've been on.
"You're just able to insert anyone in; it's next-guy-up mentality," he added. "It doesn't matter if we have injuries, suspensions, international duty, we're going to try and play the same way. And if we execute the same game plan, then it usually works out well."
With less than 72 hours between league and cup play, international player limitations and a bulk of players out on national team duty, Almeyda hinted his "thin" team will likely feature younger players against Northern California rivals Sacramento Republic.
Earlier this season, Jackson Yueill was presented with a similar opportunity and took advantage of it. Now, everything suggests that the 23-year-old midfielder will be a vital piece to the Quakes’ success in the nation's oldest tournament.
"We want to win it," said Yueill of the Open Cup. "We got close two years ago and we were out last year in the first round. So this year we're motivated to go far. So every game, we're going to take it as best as we can and we're ready for it."
The Open Cup is a factory for upsets and Cinderella stories, however, continually defying betting odds and predictions. Wondolowski and the Quakes are aware of that, but they hope their current run of form will make them bulletproof.
"I think Sacramento wants to prove a point," said the captain of what he expects from the USL Championship side. "They want to be in MLS, and rightfully so. They're doing all the right things and making the right steps.
"What a better way to prove that you belong there than to win, to beat an MLS team?" he added. "It's a nice little rivalry, in a sense. We've only done Open Cup and some preseason stuff, but it's a good Northern California rivalry. I hope it can continue, but I hope we go out there and beat them, show them why we are who we are right now."