Now having coached in the league nearly a full season, San Jose Earthquakes head coach Matias Almeyda is ready to crown the best opponent.
LAFC? They're atop the standings and have beaten the Quakes handily in every meeting. Atlanta United? San Jose face off against the defending champs tomorrow (3:30 pm ET | Univision, TUDN, Twitter in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN), offering the chance for some mind games.
San Jose were the latest to fall victim, losing 2-1 at Yankee Stadium last weekend, and Almeyda is adamant: Dome Torrent's side is tops in MLS.
"Based on the way I see soccer, the last team we faced plays the best soccer in this league, far from the rest," Almeyda told reporters this week. "They do have important players, but they aren't like the stars such as those on other teams, but they have a philosophy and a style of play that is totally different and welcome to everyone that loves this sport. I congratulated their head coach, and I want that to be public because I hope other teams can attempt a similar playing style, because of the spectacles that would take place."
Under Almeyda, the Quakes have gone from one of the worst teams in MLS last year to genuine Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs contenders. But after rising as high as 2nd place in the Western Conference, they have come back down to earth in recent weeks, with a lackluster 2-5-1 record in their last eight matches.
One of the concerns on that run has been the team going goal-shy, and Almeyda admitted turning the proverbial spigot back on is a challenge.
"We work on it and we try to improve it, and sooner or later the goals will come," he said. "We've scored a lot of goals in many matches. In some games, we should have been calmer, focused and we needed more clarity to finish on the chances we create. There are four matches left that are four finals for us. We have faith and believe we can finish in the best possible way."
Next up for the Quakes are Atlanta, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday. Almeyda admitted the task will be "very difficult," but he believes in his squad.
"The message will always be encouraging and positive. There are four matches left in which we can be forced into vacation, or we stay a bit longer for the tournament. If anyone at the start of the season said we'd be fighting for playoffs, many would have doubt that. I believed in the possibility; the coaching staff believed. We convinced the players to believe. The club directors started believing and now we are a few steps from achieving something that seemed impossible.
"I am very happy with what we have accomplished to date," he continued. "The team has given more than what was expected, and they can still offer more. We have the desire, which is fundamental. We enjoy everything we do. The players are starting to have a sense of belonging in respect to the jersey they are wearing, which is my biggest interest. We see that the ownership and the club directors have that same desire; we are together and working as a family and that is unstoppable. Hopefully, we are rewarded with a spot in playoffs."