How the Earthquakes can reload in 2015
San Jose Earthquakes General Manager John Doyle was asked last week about roster turnover he expects for the upcoming offseason:
“I think anytime you don’t have a successful season there’s gonna be some changes. … I heard this from a coach I have a lot of respect for: he said ‘good players don’t all of the sudden become bad.’ I think we have a lot of good players. I think maybe in 2012 we had career years for a lot of guys. In 2014 we had career bad years for a lot of guys.”
This statement implies (a) the performances from many San Jose players this season is not indicative of their true ability, and (b) that players who played remarkably well in 2012 did the opposite in 2014.
Doyle’s statement is interesting, considering almost all of the players who had exceptional seasons in 2012 are gone, and injuries and a lack of depth seemed to be the issue with the 2014 Quakes.
The Earthquakes had four MLS all-stars in 2012 and two alternates. Of that group, Steven Beitashour, Justin Morrow, Ramiro Corrales and Martin Chavez were not part of the 2014 roster.
The remaining two, Chris Wondolowski and Jon Busch, each won club awards for offensive and defensive player of the year respectively, and certainly did not have “career bad” years in 2014.
The issue isn’t that formerly great players merely fell off. It’s that those players are nowhere to be found.
With the club ending 2014 on a club-record 15-game winless streak, adding a few quality players is a necessity this offseason should Doyle hope to avoid missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
There should be more opportunities than ever for the Quakes to add talent, with Doyle saying that the new stadium provides an opportunity for the owners to “spend a bit more.”
Coming off arguably the worst season in club history and with new/old coach Dom Kinnear looking to put his stamp on the squad as they move to the “Epicenter of Soccer,” the San Jose Earthquakes should look a whole lot different next March.
Projecting players San Jose will add is a fruitless exercise, as the lack of information regarding player contracts makes it difficult to determine exactly who will be available. Let’s instead examine key areas where the Quakes will look to make additions.
Chris Wondolowski is still an effective MLS striker, but the Quakes are in desperate need of another option when he’s unavailable.
Yannick Djalo is not that player, at least not until he can stay healthy. Djalo can fill a myriad of attacking and midfield positions, but was most effective paired with Wondolowski as a second striker.
Possibly the Quakes most talented player, Djalo spent more time on the training table than the pitch last season, starting only eight matches.
Doyle strongly indicated that Djalo simply isn’t reliable enough to have earned a guaranteed roster spot:
“It’s a difficult situation and it’s a difficult decision just because of the amount of time he was injured. Everybody who watched him play knows he’s one of the most talented players in Major League Soccer. It’s just whether he’s on the field or not. To put a ton of resources into somebody that plays a third of the games, and then in that third of games it takes you two or three to get up to speed, we can’t do that.”
This doesn’t mean Djalo won’t return necessarily, as Doyle also made the point that the Portuguese national may be available at a reasonable enough price for San Jose to make a second loan deal for 2015.
Doyle compared this to the situation with Simon Dawkins in 2011, when the Englishman’s injury made him affordable enough to bring back. It worked out swimmingly for San Jose, as a healthy Dawkins was a key part of the Supporters Shield-winning squad in 2012.
The ball’s in Benfica’s court, and their judgement of his value will determine whether we are treated to another National Anthem from Luciana Abreu.
Steven Lenhart had a good season before it was cut short (San Jose’s highest rated striker pre-injury via whoscored.com if you care about such things), but has always been more a bruiser than a scorer. Lenhart scored only once in MLS play in 2014 and has never scored more than the 10 he had in 2012.
Atiba Harris is not the answer here, and is also out of contract. As arguably the Quakes least effective starter in 2014, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t return.
Though not Kinnear’s preference, even if San Jose elects to play with a single striker, they still need to add a second proven goal scorer to their roster, a lack of which is crippling when Wondo’s unavailable.
While some of the aforementioned holes could potentially be filled through the draft, this is a spot where San Jose might be best served scouring the open market for a player who already boasts a goal scoring tally on his resume. Only Chivas scored fewer goals than San Jose’s measly tally of 35, a number cannot be duplicated if San Jose hopes to end its playoff drought.
The Quakes never recovered after trading Steven Beitashour last offseason.
Offseason acquisition and projected starter Andreas Gorlitz suffered a season ending ACL injury in just his third match. The torn ACL is the second of Gorlitz’s career, and it’s unclear how that will affect his future at age 32.
Brandon Barklage — another offseason acquisition — replaced Gorlitz, but was benched at halftime on July 11, and never started again.
Shaun Francis did a somewhat pedestrian job for a few months, then lost the job to late-season acquisition Pablo Pintos. Pintos started six games to finish out the season, but didn’t do much more than earn a red card.
It was assumed the Uruguayan Pintos would be the right back of at least the immediate future, but that remains unclear. Though he was signed just a few months ago, Doyle did not guarantee Pintos will be back next season.
San Jose could improve at left-back as well, as Jordan Stewart — reliable from a defensive perspective — is one-dimensional.
It won’t be the end of the world if Pintos and Stewart are Opening Day starters in 2015, but San Jose needs to improve their depth in this area, and add at least another fullback of first team quality.
Picking up a player with the ability to get forward wouldn’t hurt either, as the Quakes managed only one assist and no goals from their fullbacks in 2014.
San Jose will have a hard time keeping their four center backs, especially with with the club only allowed to protect 11 players during the expansion draft for New York FC and Orlando City SC.
San Jose had one of the best pairings in MLS when Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez were healthy early in the season and late last year, but Goodson’s injury terminated that partnership for most of 2014.
Reserves Ty Harden and especially Jason Hernandez showed themselves to be more than capable in extended roles, even if the defense as a whole fell off a bit toward the end of the season.
Like most areas of the Earthquakes, this group is not young, with all four over the age of 30. Keeping a strong group at the back is essential for success, as not a single playoff team gave up more than 50 goals in 2014.
San Jose gave up exactly that number, and need to make improvement a priority.
Both Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Bobby Burling should get a look from San Jose if they are available when the Quakes select during the Chivas dispersal draft on November 19. Jean-Baptiste is young at only 22, can play as a center back or fullback, and was Portland’s best defender at times two seasons ago. He should be good value coming off a disappointing/injury plagued season with Chivas.
A consistently healthy No. 10 (the top of Kinnear’s diamond) was absent from San Jose’s attack in 2014. But with Tommy Thompson and Matias Perez Garcia returning at full strength next season, the Quakes have two exciting prospects to fill that role.
The 19-year-old homegrown Thompson didn’t suffer any setbacks after recovering from preseason knee surgery, and made a handful of very impressive late season appearances that created buzz across MLS.
Thompson is San Jose’s most promising young player in recent memory, brings energy to an otherwise languid attack, and is one of the few players on the roster capable of running with the ball at his feet with pace. His ability to create scoring opportunities for himself and others will increase as he gains more experience.
Perez Garcia also showed flashes following his mid-year transfer but had his season cut short due to injury. Doyle said during the press conference that the front office hoped there was an outside chance Garcia’s late arrival could’ve helped them turn around the 2014 season, an indication of the club’s high expectations for the Argentinian.
Garcia and Thompson both share a preferred position as a central attacking mids, but each are versatile enough to play wide positions as Thompson did occasionally in 2014. Starting both at the same time would be ideal, and completely transform San Jose’s attack into a much more dangerous animal.
What San Jose really lacks is a playmaker in the center of the pitch, someone they can rely on to pick key passes and link up play between the defense and attack.
Cronin was asked to fill that role this year, but as a natural central defensive midfielder was largely ineffective, especially paired with the like minded Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi. Cronin is also a club option for the 2015 season and may not be returning.
The lack of a true central midfielder was probably the club’s biggest deficiency in 2014, and the absence of a pivot man often made for a jumbled mess in the center of the pitch.
The Quakes need someone who can settle the ball down and distribute with accuracy. With increased attacking options up front, it’s imperative that San Jose has someone who can get those players the ball.