LOS ANGELES – Before Thursday night’s U.S. Open Cup tie, the last time LAFC and the San Jose Earthquakes faced off, the second-year side embarrassed the MLS originals 5-0 in their own stadium, in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 visiting supporters who literally shook the roof in jubilation.
To say San Jose, and especially newly hired manager Matias Almeyda, needed to put that day behind them is an understatement.
But after rebounding to dive firmly into the Western Conference playoff hunt, one thing has become clear: Almeyda has ingrained the Northern California side in a style of play most evident Thursday night.
“I thought probably in the first 20 minutes, maybe 30 minutes of the game tonight, I thought the game was more the way they like to play than the way we like to play,” said LAFC boss Bob Bradley in his post-game press conference, giving a nod to the visitors for an eventual 3-1 San Jose loss.
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“The players played a good game without the good result,” Almeyda said afterward. “We played a big rival tonight with great players. They [Earthquakes] were to play on their level. We’re seeing the work reflect on to the field. All we’re missing is the goals to see the difference.”
While Bradley was adamant in his respect for Almeyda — and any coach, for that matter, who has a distinct tactical philosophy — he drew a sharp distinction between the two manager’s football ideas.
“Their way of playing is different from our way of playing,” Bradley said. “ … I use this expression radar screen, so you’ve got to keep track of more than one thing. When I came through as a player and the German system had sort of been put in place here, everything was about the individual duel. So this idea that you played against one guy and he played against you, and look, there are still people that like to build on the game in that way, I don’t.”
Bradley delved into Almeyda’s Chivas de Guadalajara sides and the man-marking system, but remained firm about which ideas he prefers.
“For me, no, I wouldn’t want to coach the players like that,” Bradley said. “In my way of seeing the game, no, that’s not the best way to develop players and that’s not the best way to develop teams but the good news is this: I’m not right. I just have my ideas.”
Thursday night’s contest was as much a battle between the manager’s ideologies as the players themselves. For MLS all-time leading goal scorer Chris Wondolowski, he’s simply relieved his side have embraced Almeyda’s ideas and are finally playing with some cohesion and consistency.
“It was an eye-opening experience that home game against LAFC, and they gave us a good whipping, but now we know what it takes, we know how to play against them,” Wondolowski said. “They’re good, they’re a great team, that’s why they’re first and that’s why we’re chasing them. With that being said, we’re not scared of anyone anymore, we’re not changing our way, we’re going to be who we are and we have an identity now and we’re going to continue that.”