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Quakes bring high aspirations to 2018 season, 'We want to go to the MLS Cup'

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USATSI

Quakes bring high aspirations to 2018 season, 'We want to go to the MLS Cup'

In last season's finale, San Jose beat Minnesota United 3-2 to clinch the sixth and final Western Conference playoff berth and break a five-year postseason drought.

On Saturday, the teams kick off their 2018 MLS seasons at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif., full of hope and sporting some new faces.

"There's nothing quite like the beginning of the season," United coach Adrian Heath said, according to KMSP-TV. "Everybody is full of optimism. Everybody thinks this is going to be their year, and we're no different."

"I think last year the goal was said a little too much, 'This is what we want to do,'" Earthquakes right back Nick Lima said last week, according to the San Jose Mercury News. "We don't train to lose. We want to go to the MLS Cup. This city, San Jose, has a history of cups. We have the talent. We just need to put it all together."

To help pull it all together in 2018, San Jose looked to Sweden.

New coach Mikael Stahre, designated player Magnus Eriksson and left back Joel Qwiberg (born in Colombia but raised in Sweden) are all Swedes.

Earthquakes caption Chris Wondolowski believes his style will fit nicely with his new coach's.

"I love it. It's really going to fit well in this league," Wondolowski said. "He comes in, has a good mentality, especially defensively. ... Offensively, he kind of wants us to express ourselves. We have some talent now and nice weapons."

Wondolowski is just 12 goals shy of Landon Donovan's MLS record of 145.

The biggest needs for improvement come on opposite ends for the Earthquakes and Loons.

For San Jose, an offense that produced only 39 goals in 34 games needs a recharge.

That's where Eriksson comes in.

The forward had 14 goals and six assists for Swedish club Djugardens last season.

"It's going good. I think the start here has been great," Eriksson said. "We went for training camp in Arizona. First trip to get together on a ground-floor level, so it was good. The games that we played, decent performance, OK. We're getting there."

San Jose's up-and-down 2017 season (the Earthquakes were 10-2-5 at home but 3-12-2 on the road) came to an ignominious halt with a 5-0 playoff loss to Vancouver.

In its MLS debut last year, Minnesota United started slowly, winning just once in its first seven games.

But the Loons were 4-4-1, including their first three road wins, during the final seven weeks of the season.

Improving on last season's start will be challenging as Minnesota faces seven playoff teams in their first eight games.

"Everybody wants to win," United forward Abu Danladi said. "Noboby wants to start the season like we did last year."

Another challenge: fixing a defense that surrendered a league-worst 70 goals in 2017.

Minnesota, which parted ways with center back Vadim Demidov this week, added to their defense by signing two of their picks from the 2018 SuperDraft.

Wyatt Omsberg from Dartmouth was taken 15th overall, and Duke's Carter Manley was the No. 23 pick.

"They've shown what we've thought. They've got a lot of potential," Heath said of his rookies, including No. 7 overall pick Mason Toye, according to the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune.

"We've had a real good sit-down and a long chat with them and sort of outlined what our expectations are for them. They've got all the physical tools and the mental understanding, I think, to succeed and have a long career in MLS. But that's going to be up to them."

Toye will back up strikers Danladi and Christian Ramirez.

Danladi, the top pick in 2017, is the only player remaining from the Loons' inaugural draft.

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