It was a transitional season in 2019 for the San Jose Earthquakes. While they may not have ultimately qualified for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, they did improve mightily on a disastrous 2018 campaign. And they did so in style.
Led by new head coach Matias Almeyda, the Quakes were a club transformed. Their unique, high-octane man-marking system made them one of the most entertaining clubs across the league. It's 90 minutes of controlled chaos, every week. After a slow start, they performed as a bonafide postseason team over the summer months, before a limp to the finish line condemned them below the playoff line.
Heading to the MLS is Back Tournament in the notorious Orlando summer heat next week, with a squad who haven't even played a friendly match in four months, the Quakes may just need to ease up on the gas pedal a bit. It may not be 90 minutes of controlled chaos.
“With the heat, and going into these games where no one has played a full 90 for three and a half months, I think we’ll have to change some of the tactics," midfielder Jackson Yueill told MLSsoccer.com this week. "We don’t want to get away from our style and stay true to ourselves, but we have to recognize the outside circumstances and environment we’re in. Some things will be a little different, but we’ll stay as true to ourselves as possible.”
Yueill has been one of the chief benefactors from Almeyda's style.
The talented midfielder didn't get regular minutes in his first two MLS seasons before Almeyda arrived, then exploded in 2019 as not only an everyday started, but earning his US men's national team debut as well.
“Matias puts a lot of trust in myself and I try to do my role," Yueill said. "We have a lot of chaos, especially defensively and we have really fast attackers who cause havoc, but we try to create a balance of calmness. That’s what myself, Judson and Magnus (Eriksson are for. I really enjoy this system. He gives you a lot of freedom with the ball. That’s the main part you see in the players expressing themselves.”
Yueill's quality on the ball has never been in question. He's an adept passer, with great vision and read for the game. Almeyda has helped cultivate his defensive skills.
Little things like when to tackle, body shape and tactical observations off the ball are specific areas Almeyda has helped Yueill. And, of course, sheer will and tenacity.
“He was a bit of a killer," Yueill said. Even that perhaps undersells Almeyda's competitive, indefatigable career as a defensive midfielder for River Plate, the Argentinian national team and a host of other stops.
That competitive drive will be on full display from the coaching staff to the players on the pitch. Despite taking just one point from their first two MLS matches four months ago, the Quakes are coming into the tournament with confidence and purpose.
“At tournaments like this, a lot of things are possible," Yueill said. "With teams being rusty and the weather having an effect, there are a lot of possibilities. No team came here thinking they’ll be out in the first round, everyone has the goal to win. And that’s our goal. We’re training to make it to [the final on] August 11.”