The San Jose Earthquakes found themselves in a dogfight as they walked into their locker room at Avaya Stadium for halftime on Tuesday night.
Hosting Sacramento Republic FC in a fourth-round U.S. Open Cup clash, they’d twice fallen behind to the USL Championship side and MLS expansion hopefuls in the first 45 minutes. On both occasions the Quakes responded, first via a Magnus Eriksson strike and later via Cristian Espinoza’s equalizer from the penalty spot.
But it wasn’t good enough, and coach Matias Almeyda let them know it.
“Matias got into us,” said striker Chris Wondolowski, “but at the same time, told us you have nothing to fear with me, you guys have the freedom to play the game.
“People who have pressure is the person looking for a job, has a family that is sick, those are the people who have pressure. You guys don't have pressure, so go out and enjoy this game, play with that freedom.”
The inspiring halftime talk – characteristic of the charismatic manager known as “Pelado” – put things in perspective for the Quakes, who kicked on with two second-half goals to hold off Republic FC’s dogged upset bid.
“I think that we didn't underestimate them, but we were tense and that made us a little slow,” added Wondo. “Matias had a great message and helped us right the ship a little bit.”
For his part, Almeyda underlined his team’s respect for the historic tournament in his postgame remarks and reminded his squad that they’ll be taking no games off on his watch.
“We need to be serious about every match we play. We need to do that out of respect for the fans who paid for tickets,” said the Argentinean. “This coaching staff lives this sport through passion, and we respect the team directors who gave us this opportunity. From that point, we want to feel accomplished, even in training sessions.”