SAN JOSE, Calif. — The first sight of the decade for reporters at the training field adjacent to Earthquakes Stadium was Matias Almeyda trailing a pack of common faces jogging around the outer white lines of the field.
Restricted from drills involving soccer balls, the San Jose Earthquakes’ second day of the 2020 preseason, in an unapologetic Almeyda fashion, consisted of pure conditioning workouts. Ironically, with the only new faces being the team’s three MLS SuperDraft picks, every player present understands very well what is to come in San Jose and in Cancun as the Quakes prepare for their second season under the Argentine taskmaster.
“Last preseason in Cancun, we carried out our preseason at 80 percent of what we had planned in regards to drills, in the interpretation of what we were looking in our system of play,” Almeyda said. “We didn’t know each other. The players didn’t know each other.”
“This time around, we all know our methodology, we know how the players think and react, what we want, [and] how we want to train each day,” he added. “Surely, the biggest reinforcement that we have is that we have a year together now. From that point, we believe that the team is going to be competitive. And obviously [this time around], we want to carry out our preseason to a 99.9 percent of what we have planned.”
With a player still yet to be bought this Primary Transfer Window and a majority of last year’s squad still in place, the Quakes are one of the few teams in the league with a low turnover rate. General manager Jesse Fioranelli and company did, however, manage to sign standout winger Cristian Espinoza (via a club-record transfer) and defensive midfielder Judson to permanent deals.
“As an ex-player, I think that the most beautiful thing that a coach can do is keep 90, 95 percent of the roster," Almeyda said, "That says that I trust the players, and that I trust that we will be able to participate at the same level (as last year) or a bit better.”
Almeyda was quick to acknowledge his team might not have the best projections to make the playoffs or lift silverware heading into the season. After all, a slew of mid-to-lower table teams — in both conferences — made clear statements of intent this offseason with ambitious multi-million dollar signings.
The Quakes spent close to $3 million to sign Espinoza from Villarreal, but it’s clear they’re betting on collective productivity, their youth, the academy and, most importantly, this isn’t their first lap around a field together.
“I think that it kind of gives us [the feeling that] we’re all on the same page,” captain Chris Wondolowski said about having a near-identical squad to last season. “I think that we know what to expect, what to do. Again, we have a very grueling preseason ahead of us, but everyone came in very fit this year.”
“Everyone knows that it’s going to be a tough preseason,” he added. “Everyone knows what it takes to play for Matias for a full year. And it’s not always easy, but when you do execute the game plan and you do execute the fitness regimen, then it becomes easier. And it becomes more fun and easier out there in the games. And even though practices are difficult, you enjoy the time out there. And I think that’s still the game plan and we’re hoping to get off to a better start than we did last year.”