The San Jose Earthquakes’ beautiful run in the MLS Is Back tournament came to a crashing end Saturday.

Not that anyone should be surprised by the 4-1 takedown by Minnesota United, which had another commanding performance against San Jose. This time the Loons did it in a quarterfinal game at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida.

United (4-0-2 overall) will face Orlando SC on Thursday for a trip to the tournament championship Aug. 12. Orlando (2-1-2) advanced to the semifinals past favored Los Angeles FC in a penalty shootout on Friday.

So much for an all-California showdown.

San Jose (2-2-2 overall) suffered its first defeat of the tournament and heads home not knowing what happens next. Major League Soccer executives have yet to announce if the regular season will resume as the United States struggles to control the novel coronavirus outbreak.

But this much the Earthquakes know: They need to figure how to handle Minnesota, which has won four in a row, including a 5-2 victory at Earthquakes Stadium on March 7.

The Loons have outscored the Quakes 15-4 since Argentine coach Matias Almeyda took over the club last year.

“The secret is, try and keep them at bay for long enough periods and maybe get a goal on the counterattack, and work from there,” Minnesota coach Adrian Heath said before the game. “Because, as they proved in this tournament, once they get a head of steam up, they’re very difficult to stop.”

The real question here is if Heath has Almeyda’s man-marking defense under wraps can other Major League Soccer teams emulate the strategy going forward.

Because other than Minnesota, the Earthquakes have overpowered much of the competition this year.

The takeaway Saturday is that San Jose remains a team on the rise but will be vulnerable to letdowns because of its commitment to the attack.

“This group is confident and believes in our system,” defender Tommy Thompson said after the game. “Against Minnesota, we’ve come up short. It is a testament to their quality.”

Heath had an effective game plan to ensure his team stayed in the tournament. From the start, the Earthquakes looked unnerved by Minnesota’s pressure from wide spaces.

San Jose had become a league-wide favorite with its usual tactical style that often causes chaos on the field. The Quakes make soccer look fun as they run past opponents and pepper goalkeepers with shot after shot.

But Minnesota out San Jose’d San Jose with an opportunistic attack that kept Quakes’ goalkeeper Daniel Vega teetering on the edge. The Loons did it without three starters who are out with injuries.

“In the decisive time of the match we just couldn’t do it,” Almeyda said in Spanish. “The opponent shut down very well in the back.”

Although San Jose had possession 64.5 percent of the time, Minnesota had 13 shots on target to the Quakes measly four. The shot account usually is the other way around when San Jose is playing in sync.

But the Loons again proved that willful teams can deflate San Jose’s relentless pursuit of goals by playing keep away. Heath seemed intent to not let San Jose playmaker Cristian Espinoza and midfield distributor Jackson Yueill get comfortable.

Once those two were neutralized Minnesota had the run of the field.

It fell apart for San Jose in a 90-second stretch in the first half when Minnesota took a 2-0 lead on goals from Robin Lod and Jacori Hayes. Both scores came from close range when the already pressed San Jose defense collapsed.

Lod scored after a corner kick fell to Hassani Dodson outside the penalty area. He served the ball to Minnesota’s Jose Aja who headed it across the goal as Lod slipped by the Quakes’ Judson to pop it in.

The Loons did not stop there. In the 21st minute, Dotson struck hard and Vega could not control the block. Midfielder Ethan Finlay got to the loose ball and flipped it to Hayes for another dispiriting tap in.

San Jose briefly recovered to start the second half, giving an injection of hopefulness. Before Minnesota could blink, captain Magnus Eriksson had scored on a penalty kick to cut the score to 2-1.

Referee Jair Marrufo awarded the PK in the 50th minute after a video review confirmed Hayes had touched the ball with his hand while trying to defend Thompson in the penalty area.

The hope proved short-lived as Minnesota regrouped to take a 3-1 lead in the 60th minute on Luis Amarilla’s third goal in his fifth start. It was another opportunistic play that other MLS opponents might borrow to stop San Jose.

Lod sent a long pass to Amarilla to catch the Quakes’ defense off guard. He raced into the area uncontested and shot low past Vega to make it 3-1.

Almeyda quickly sent in three attacking players — Chris Wondolowski, Shea Salinas and Carlos Fierro.

But it did not make a difference.

Marlon Hairston scored in the 86th minute to squash any thoughts of a San Jose comeback.

Thompson said he already was looking to the regular season.

“Whenever the season does start we will be ready to go,” he said.

 

 

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Author: Elliott Almond

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