San Jose Earthquakes admit Minnesota United outplayed them, promise best is yet to come

The curtain closed on one of the most exciting shows of the MLS is Back Tournament on Saturday night, when the San Jose Earthquakes tumbled to a 4-1 quarterfinal defeat to Minnesota United.

Head coach Matias Almeyda's swashbuckling team — one which had delighted their supporters and neutrals alike by scoring 11 goals across three thrilling wins in the games prior — had no answer for a well-organized MNUFC team that clearly seems to have their number. After an anemic first half that left them in a two-goal hole, and then giving up a third goal six minutes after pulling one back, Almeyda admitted that his team had been second-best in the encounter.

"In soccer and in life, you have to recognize when they outplay you, and this is one of those cases," he said in his postgame press conference. "Our first half was not like how we’ve habitually played and we found ourselves at a disadvantage for our second-half effort."

The tone-setting, if not decisive, blows of the match landed in quick succession in the first half. Robin Lod tucked home an easy finish in the 20th minute after escaping some lax marking from San Jose's Judson, while Jacori Hayes followed up less than two minutes later when he took advantage of a generous rebound from Quakes 'keeper Daniel Vega.

Anyone familiar with San Jose — or that simply has time to go back and watch the highlights of their wild 4-3 win over Vancouver on July 15 — knows they are no strangers to overcoming multi-goal deficits, but on Saturday they found it tough to get anything going offensively. They generated plenty of shots — 16 to Minnesota's 20 — but never seriously tested Tyler Miller in the opposing goal. Of their four shots on target, three were from outside the area, and the remaining one was the 50th-minute penalty converted by Magnus Eriksson for his team's lone goal of the encounter. Minnesota, by contrast, put Vega to work, forcing him into nine saves in addition to the four shots that got past him.

Almeyda lamented his team's inability to capitalize on the boost handed to them after the penalty early in the second half, a false dawn that lasted just a few minutes before Luis Amarilla beat Vega at the near post to dampen any hopes of a Quakes comeback.

"In decisive times of the match, we weren’t able to do it. And whether we lose by one, two or three goals it is the same for me," Almedya said. "Simply, we wanted to try to see if we could bring what we had been able to do in previous games when we came back from 3-1.

"The opponent shut down very well at the back and we insisted, but we weren’t able to have the clarity to be able to tie it at that moment, so it got difficult."

Saturday's result also served as a reminder that Minnesota has continued to present a problem for the Quakes, and specifically for Almeyda's Quakes. As a matter of fact, San Jose had a perfect 4-0-0 record against MNUFC prior to his arrival ahead of the 2019 campaign, but the trend has now been fully reversed, with Saturday's loss marking a fourth straight defeat against the Loons. Minnesota previously took a 5-2 win in San Jose in March, to go along with 3-0 and 3-1 wins in 2019.

"Unfortunately, against Minnesota, we’ve come up short the past couple times we’ve lined up against them — it’s a testament to their quality," said Quakes defender Tommy Thompson. "They’re a great team and they showed it tonight. We’re going to go home, think about the mistakes we made, we’re going to correct them. Every time we set foot on that field we’re ready to put our best foot forward, and that’s what we’re focusing on — we’re not focusing on past results and we’re always looking ahead into the future."

What that future may hold is not immediately clear, as the team returns home and starts to prepare for whatever the rest of the year may throw their way. But despite falling short of the ultimate prize, there is a recognition that the team's body of work in the tournament was a positive for a team widely considered to be outsiders when they headed to Orlando back on June 24, as the first team to arrive and the very last to train together as a full team — something they were only able to start doing in Florida due to local restrictions at home.

"I’m really proud of the steps forward we’ve taken in this tournament," said Thompson. "It was a huge commitment for us to be first team here and to stay as long as we did. I think it’s a testament to where the team is at. We’re confident and we think the best is yet to come. "

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