San Jose Earthquakes face Minnesota United in the first of an MLS is Back quarter-final double-header on Saturday evening. Set against the backdrop of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Matias Almeyda’s side are the favourites to secure progression to the last four, although the ‘Quakes will face stiff opposition from an MNUFC side that has surpassed expectations in Orlando.
San Jose have secured four wins from the sides’ six previous contests, setting-up what could prove to be a pivotal fixture at MLS is Back. Minnesota are unbeaten in their last three fixtures against the ‘Qaukes, and secured a 5-2 win over their Californian opponents earlier this year. The victors on Saturday evening will face one of Orlando City or LAFC in the last four.
Neither side has fresh injury concerns following their victories in the Round of 16. Adrian Heath has made the most of the five substitutions at his disposal since the restart, averaging 3.5 alterations per match. Jacori Hayes, Marlon Hariston, Aaron Schoenfeld and Raheem Edwards featured for MNUFC in the final stages of their meeting with Columbus Crew and could be trusted with minutes against the ‘Quakes.
San Jose will once again rely on MLS record goalscorer Chris Wondolowski to feature from the bench, the 37-year-old poacher has scored in each of his last three appearances. Jackson Yueill is expected to start for San Jose in central midfield alongside Judson, with Almeyda expected to stick with the back four that has led the ‘Quakes to the last eight.
Following the Loons’ penalty shoot-out victory over the Crew, Adrian Heath said: “I thought we were better this evening. I think we’re growing into the tournament. I think we’ve got better each game. I thought we were better again tonight. We haven’t done well enough with the ball in the opposing half.
“At times, we’re too quick, we’re too hurried. We don’t compose ourselves and move the ball around enough. We want to go and demand it now. And, that’s something we spoke about and that’s something that we’re going to need to do.
“We’re going to need to possess the ball better than we have done against San Jose. Because that’s one of their strengths. They keep the ball, they spread you out. It will be a new challenge for us at the weekend. For sure.”
In the wake of San Jose’s victory over Real Salt Lake, Matias Almeyda spoke to reporters about his side’s growth throughout 2020. “I think that the work you put in allows you to improve,” Almeyda told journalists in Orlando, “The humbleness and sacrifice that each once of us has had to come here two weeks prior to the tournament in Orlando and leave our families behind.
“There are lots of other extra-football things going on that are fundamental for our group. We do not only train football players but also value the human aspect that each one of them have. We try to have a unity and conviction, and I think that every victory we have is very gratifying because we work a lot for it.
“We make a great sacrifice, and that’s the happiness that I have for them, for our executives, for ownership, and for our families who have been waiting for us for over a month now. Those that are from other countries are also waiting with lots of uncertainty on the ongoing pandemic. We’re not only playing a football tournament; we’re playing a lot more than that.”
Ones to Watch
USMNT prospect Chase Gasper could be vital for the Loons if they are to make inroads along the left flank. Gasper, who scored the winning penalty kick last time out, is among a small group of American players that have shone at MLS is Back.
It is impossible to look beyond Yueill and Judson at the heart of San Jose’s midfield as the players to watch for the Quakes. The perfect blend of playmaking and defensive aptitude, the Quakes double-pivot is a true two-way pairing. If Wondolowski makes a cameo appearance for San Jose, Minnesota might want to mark the Danville native tightly in the eighteen-yard box.
San Jose Earthquakes versus Minnesota United is available to watch on ESPN 2 and ESPN Deportes in the United States, and TSN in Canada. The match is also being broadcast in the United Kingdom on Free Sports.