The 2016 MLS preseason is over. From here on out, they all count.
The crowds may have huddled briefly around Avaya Stadium’s iconic bar to watch Steph Curry perform his nightly miracle against the Thunder, but the Earthquakes got their own job done Saturday night, emerging as the 1-0 winners of a bump and grind game against the New York Cosmos in their final preseason match.
Despite the razor-thin scoreline, the Earthquakes were in the driver’s seat for the majority of the game. The Quakes dominated in possession and chances produced, led the first half in shots, possession and, less impressively, fouls committed, with 12.
Head coach Dom Kinnear pointed out that San Jose would need more vigor in their offense.
“For the most part, [the Cosmos] sat in. That’s going to happen during the season and we’re going to have to find a way to break that down and be a little more dangerous, a little more effective when we have the ball.”
San Jose’s best chances of the first half came from newly signed Jamaican international midfielder, Simon Dawkins, who hit two stinging low line drives, first wide right, and then wide left. Dawkins was active in and around the final third early, having mishit two would-be key through balls.
Kinnear called it an okay performance, but said he wants to see Dawkins make even more of an impact going forward.
“We were getting to the halfway line without any problems and he was being part of the build-up. I want him to be more part of the attack.”
The Earthquakes finally broke through early in the second half, when veteran U.S. international center back Clarence Goodson cleaned up a poorly-defended corner for a simple tap-in finish. The 53rd minute tally wasn’t pretty, but it put San Jose up 1-0 on the night.
According to Goodson, the goal was an instinctive move:
“Honestly it was just a reaction. I just threw my leg at it. I got good wood on it and it went in.”
New York found their best chances late in the game, first in the 77th minute when a surgical ball nearly landed on striker Lucky Mkosana’s foot in front of goal, but the San Jose backline just managed to clear.
Besides that play, and a couple of well-placed headers, the second half was as free of chances as the physical first half, outside of Goodson of course. Their second chance came in the 83rd minute when Cosmos striker Juan Arango found himself with an open shot which he got under and ballooned over the top right corner of the goal.
The Quakes’ defense was a particularly positive sight on the night, maintaining a clean sheet against one of the more dangerous sides they’ve faced this preseason.
Late in the game when the Cosmos pushed forward desperately trying to score, the pairing of Bernardez and Goodson stood firm, making several key tackles and interceptions. With an ever-changing striker committee of Quincy Amerikwa, Innocent Emeghara, Chris Wondolowski, Mark Sherrod and Adam Jahn, a reliable defense will be integral to a playoff season for this year’s Earthquakes.
Goodson claimed that the performance was good, but not great, before giving New York the respect they deserved:
“Look, they’re by far the best team in that league. By far. A lot of MLS players on that team and guys who could certainly play in MLS.”
A noticeably undersized preseason crowd still managed a passionate cheer for late subs and designated players, Matias Perez-Garcia and Innocent Emeghara. But their applause for young homegrown talent Tommy Thompson was rapturous, as the Avaya fans clearly wanted to see more of their promising starlet in 2016.
For the Earthquakes, the victory is a comforting end to a preseason that saw them lose more than they won (2-3), only defeating Korean side, Seongnam FC and San Jose’s own USL affiliate, Sacramento Republic FC.
Veteran forward Wondolowski appeared happy with the way the team has come together through the preseason:
“Personally I do [have a good feeling about the team]. We have very high expectations of ourselves in the locker room and we’re going to hold ourselves to a very high standard.”
For the Cosmos, who will defend their crown as NASL champions this season, this will be their last taste of MLS competition they face this season, excepting a US Open Cup run.
The Earthquakes look to build on this momentum when the 2016 regular season kicks off at Avaya Stadium against the Colorado Rapids March 6. The organization will be hoping for a stronger performance this time around than their 2015 effort, when they finished out of the playoffs (13-8-13) with an unsatisfying seventh place in the Western Conference.