1) It has been a wild 10 or so days for the San Jose Earthquakes.
On June 22nd, the team announced the signing of designated player Valeri Qazaishvili. A representative oft the Georgian National Team, “Vako,” as he is known, is an attacking midfielder than can also serve as a second striker. This will bolster the Quake’s attack which has shown potential all season long, but has not delivered consistently. With word of reinforcement on the way in the form of Vako, the Earthquakes played inspired soccer one week ago, getting goals from Danny Hoesen and Marco Urena, and beating Real Salt Lake 2-1 in dominant fashion (RSL scored a last second goal in stoppage time, and the match was whistled over moments later). This bumped San Jose up to 5th in the Western Conference, put them above the red line for playoff qualification, and has them just two points out of 2nd place in the Western Conference. All is well that ends well, right? Not quite. Less than 24 hours later, the Earthquakes announced the firing of head coach Dominic Kinnear, and announced that Technical director Chris Leitch would take over as head coach, and that director of methodology Alex Covelo would replace John Spencer as assist coach. As this news sent ripples through MLS, Leitch had a US Open Cup match against the Sounders to quickly prepare for, and with the clock ticking down to his debut as head coach, he quickly schemed a 3-5-2 formation, and in his coaching debut got a 2-1 win over the Sounders, advanced to the US Open Cup quarterfinals, and now see’s familiar foe The Galaxy on July 10th at Avaya Stadium. That was Wednesday, and now Leitch has a huge challenge ahead of him in the #CaliClasico (Pregame coverage begins at 630 tonight on KNBR 1050, kickoff 730)
2) A huge opportunity all around.
The San Jose Earthquakes currently sit at 5th in the Western Conference with 23 points on the year, and are only 2 points shy of 2nd place Houston. Today, Houston plays the Rapids, who have been in much better form as of late, particularly at home.Third place Portland takes on table toppers Sporting Kansas City in KC, so the Standings all over the west have to potential to be wildly different when we look at them Sunday morning, except for KC, who, even if they lose, would still be at least 2 points clear of 2nd place at the top of the west.
For GM Jesse Fioranelli,he has an opportunity to prove that the firing of Kinnear was the right move to make at this point in the season. The most consistent question regarding the move away from Kinnear was regarding the timing, coming less than a week before one of the biggest matches of the year, the California Clasico at Stanford, in front of 50k plus against the Galaxy, their bitter rivals. If the Quakes get a much needed three points today, it would settle much of the speculative talk regarding San Jose that is swirling around the MLS landscape. It would also allow for Leitch to have an early “I’m here to stay” moment for those that have questioned his placement as the head coach of the team. Obviously, I am rooting for Leitch, not just because I work for the team, but because Leitch has been working his tail off for a decade, and has done great work within the franchise, whether as technical director or interim GM. That work ethic combined with his all around “good guy” nature will go far in this business, especially so if it comes with winning. A US Open Cup advancement was a nice appetizer for Leitch, but today is his MLS debut, and it comes against the Galaxy. A first ever MLS match win coming against the Galaxy would quickly give him a warm outlook among the fan base.
3) Temper, temper…
The first time these two teams met this year, the Earthquakes gave up an own goal and had another against them by way of a PK. Those proved to be the difference in a 4-2 loss to the Galaxy. But tempers flared, with Galaxy team captain and natural instigator Jelle Van Damme waving the LA badge in the faces of the Earthquakes as full time ticked ever closer. A mild, but rilesome gesture from the day’s winner. That attitude will be amped up even more so tonight by a factor of 5, in front of 50k plus at Stanford. Matches between these two teams at Stanford are marked by late heroics, pushing and shoving, yelling and screaming, and a near title game like intensity. With the Galaxy sitting in 6th place, the Earthquakes in the midst of a coaching change and franchise shakeup, and the top 6 of the Western Conference separated by 3 points from 6th to 2nd place, the stage is set for a match for the ages. There will be fireworks on the field, and when the match ends, the best fireworks show in the Bay Area will light the night sky. 630 Pregame, 730 Kickoff. KNBR 1050.