With a breakthrough goal in the 81st minute to end a scoreless deadlock between the Quakes and FC Dallas this past Saturday, Jahmir Hyka, aka “#hykachu,” aka “The Albanian Messi,” gave the Earthquakes the lead for good as San Jose handed FC Dallas their first defeat in 2017. The victory represented the Quakes’ second road win in 2017, and it also put a stamp on a 3-1-1 stretch for the Quakes that saw them beat Minnesota United FC in Minnesota, smash Portland at home, fall to Colorado on the road, draw Orlando at home, and then beat Dallas on the road. But the 5 match stretch also saw San Jose reassert themselves in the Western Conference after a cool down through most of April that followed a 2-0-0 start to the season in March.
The Quakes had a similarly hot start in 2016, but were not able to notch their first road win until August, and the attack was primarily centered around Chris Wondolowski, and not much else. Now, the Quakes have more options, are consistently creating opportunities, and find themselves in 4th in the West, and finding momentum as they head towards a Western Conference showdown against the LA Galaxy.
Arguably the best rivalry in Major League Soccer, the Quakes and Galaxy is the MLS version of the Giants and Dodgers, with controversies surrounding Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Quakes mascot Q (who got in a shoving match with Beckham), playoff comebacks, wild finishes and more. The crazy history of matches between these two teams is enough to foster an inter-conference rivalry, but with the combination of the natural geographic rivaly, it pushes it over the top.
The Galaxy are potentially finding their form at just the right time, with new head coach Curt Onalfo (who took over for new U.S. Men’s National Team coach Bruce Arena), pushing the right buttons at the right time, like subbing out captain Jelle Van Damme in the first half of their 2-2 draw against Chicago on May 6th. Since then, the Galaxy have won two in a row, and are looking much more like the consistent Western Conference contender that they have been, well, forever. Some of the things to consider are a tactical shift made by Onalfo, who had Giovanni Dos Santos drop into the role of the 10 (like Valeri with Portland, or Lodeiro of Seattle), which has also allowed offseason designated player acquisition Romain Alessandrini to consistently sit in at the right wing position, but also allows him to drop underneath to be a playmaker as well. This means that the Quakes, owners of the third fewest goals allowed in the Western Conference, will certainly have their hands full on Saturday night in handling the Galaxy attack. Adding to that attack is standout forward Gyasi Zardes, who finally seems back and fully fit for the Galaxy after dealing with a foot injury that ended his 2016 season prematurely and an offseason knee scope that has stalled his 2017 campaign. In seven appearances this year, he has just one assist and zero goals, but that is bound to change.
The Quakes are finding their form as well. Head coach Dominic Kinnear (who was just nominated for the US Soccer Hall of Fame, as well as assistant coach Steve Ralston, and Quakes Hall of Famer Joe Cannon) made significant changes to his starting lineup again this past Saturday. Kinnear put Nick Lima in at the left back position, Cordell Cato at the right back, Tommy Thompson at the left wing, Jahmir Hyka wide right, and inserted Danny Hoesen alongside Wondolowski up top. Now, previously in the season, Hoesen had been part of the starting 11 as a target winger wide on the left, and we could see that happen again on Saturday, but Kinnear usually replicates a starting 11 that wins, akin to how Bruce Bochy handles his lineup with the Giants.
Saturday night has it all: a beerfest before the game, live music, the best rivalry in Major League Soccer, and the game will be nationally televised. Avaya Stadium will be shining bright, and myself and Joe Cannon will be on the call on KNBR 1050 at 7 p.m. You don’t want to miss the California Clásico – every edition provides new drama, new controversy, new villains, and new heroes.