The two-time MLS champion San Jose Earthquakes won the Supporters Shield in 2012 as the top team in the leaguewide regular-season standings. That translated to an early playoff exit. The Earthquakes won the first leg of their matchup against the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 on the road at the Home Depot Center; three days later at home, the Earthquakes collapsed in a 3-1 defeat that kept them from advancing 3-2 on aggregate.
Head coach Frank Yallop, back for his second stint managing the team after his first run from 2001-2003, has spent the past four years of his tenure wallowing at the lower recesses of the Western Conference before the breakthrough campaign last summer. The Supporters Shield represented a 28-point improvement from the 2011 standings. So…
Was this an aberration for the Earthquakes, or are they destined to be the team to beat again this year? They enter the season with key players on injured reserve, and will need their backups to perform at a high level to retain their spot among the West’s best. Can the Quakes translate last season’s regular-season success into postseason hardware in 2013? Or will an improving stock of teams in the conference strike midnight on San Jose’s story?
The Earthquakes started their preseason in Tucson at the Desert Friendlies. In their opener, San Jose found a diamond in the rough as trialist striker Alexandre Emerson scored a brace in the 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo. The goals would earn the San Jose native a contract with the team for the 2013 season. Jamie Smith scored a second-half goal for Colorado as the Rapids beat the Quakes 1-0 in their final match in Arizona for Yallop’s team.
Returning west to California, San Jose lost their next friendly against the Chicago Fire after conceding a penalty in the 79th minute. Jeff Laurentowicz coolly converted the spot kick for the 1-0 Fire win. The Earthquakes took out the frustrations of their prior losses on USL Premier Development League squad Ventura County Fusion, getting two goals from Sam Garza in a 4-0 rout of the fourth-division side. A few days later, the team traveled north up the I-5 corridor to Portland for the preseason tournament hosted by the Timbers.
San Jose first drew 3-3 against the hosts, goals by Chris Wondolowski, Victor Bernardez and Mike Fucito neutralized by a hat trick from new Timber Ryan Johnson. They would play another draw, this one scoreless, against AIK Stockholm from the Swedish Allsvenskan. The final match of their preseason saw Wondolowski and Fucito connect again as the Quakes prevailed over FC Dallas 2-1. With the victory San Jose finished their preseason schedule 3-2-2.
ROSTER OUTLOOK FOR 2013
Diminutive Jon Busch, acquired in 2010 from the Chicago Fire, has been a crucial cog in goal for the Earthquakes the past three seasons. The goalkeeper, though, has seen his averages dip since joining the team, and waiting on the bench is 23-year-old David Bingham, who has gone 3-1-0 in limited playing time each of the past two seasons but provides Yallop with a more prototypical build to throw onto the line. Evan Newton, drafted by Houston and acquired last year, serves as the team’s third keeper.
Playing in the center of defense, Honduran international Víctor Bernárdez helped shore up the defense for the Quakes after his offseason arrival from Anderlecht in Belgium. Alongside him is Jason Hernandez, who will play his 100th match for San Jose in their season opener. Toronto FC acquisitions Ty Harden and Nana Attakora offer relief for the starting pair, and the team also drafted Tommy Muller with the 15th pick in this year’s SuperDraft as a developmental option. Steven Beitashour returned from multiple leg injuries to start 33 of San Jose’s 34 regular season games on the left in 2012. The team brought in Dan Gargan from Chicago to offer insurance if Beitashour suffers further injuries. On the right, fullback Justin Morrow secured the right side; entering his fourth season, Morrow can help the build-up of play pressing forward. Team captain Ramiro Corrales can slot into any position along the line, and the team also acquired volatile young Irish defender Peter McGlynn — who was kicked off the UC-Santa Barbara team last October after punching a referee during a match — hoping to harness his energy but tame his negative impulses.
The midfield diamond starts in front of the defense with Sam Cronin, who has already played 68 games for the club after his midseason acquisition from Toronto in 2010. 2009 SuperDraft pick Brad Ring serves as the backup at the defensive position. The edges are flanked by Marvin Chavez on the right and Shea Salinas on the left, both of whom were brought before last season and anchored what had been a position of weakness for the Quakes. Sam Garza backs up Chavez, while if Salinas goes down it will be the captain Corrales stepping into the role on the left. San Jose also locked up the rights to Trinidadian youngster Cordell Cato from Seattle; the winger can play on either side, immediately bolstering a perilously-thin position. At the top of the diamond, Rafael Baca will likely continue to start behind the attackers, stoking the offense. Moroccan veteran Mehdi Ballouchy, who joined the team from New York late last year, offers a second option as well as the potential to play to the right. The team also picked Mexican youngster Dan Delgado in the second round of the SuperDraft as a third option.
Chris Wondolowski scored a preposterous 27 goals last season to earn a share of the MLS single-season record set by Roy Lassiter in the league’s inaugural season. He has been at the top of the MLS scoring charts each of the past three seasons, putting away 61 goals in 87 starts as the sniper in Yallop’s offense. Alongside him, Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart split playing time in the other forward spot and scored a combined 23 goals. (The trio’s total of 50 was more than 14 MLS teams potted the entire season.) But Gordon (offseason foot surgery) and Lenhart (right knee surgery) are both sidelined to start the season. In anticipation of the inevitable absences, the Quakes acquired Mike Fucito from Portland in mid-January. They also have 2012 draft pick Cesar Diaz Pizarro entering his sophomore campaign; the young Peruvian could be called upon to fill a more significant role in 2013. San Jose also signed Alexandre Emerson, a trialist this preseason who impressed with a pair of goals against the Dynamo.
The Earthquakes have nowhere to go but down in the regular-season standings. But Yallop and this crew would gladly take a lower seeding in the playoffs if it meant a chance at the MLS Cup. The danger for San Jose is that they are a few more injuries away from slipping completely out of the playoff picture. Yallop and his staff will have to be malleable with their system and the lineup to ensure the best chance at retaining elite status in the Western Conference.