The San Jose Earthquakes are two-time winners of the MLS Cup, three-time winners of the Supporters Shield and sixth place finishers in the western conference last year. It is fair to say that the Earthquakes did not live up to expectation in the 2013 season.
In the beginning of the campaign, the team was hampered with a porous defense, a stagnant midfield and an attack that relied too heavily on America’s most clinical forward, Chris Wondolowski. Managerial doubt did not help matters at the time, although the eventual hiring of Mark Watson could be the Quakes’ saving grace this upcoming season.
Watson, a former defender for the likes of Watford FC and the New England Revolution, has made it clear that this team will be renovated from the back going forward.
The Quakes have a real chance at finding their 2012 form and, at the same time, forgetting 2013 in 2014. They have the tools and the mix of experience and youth to make a deep run into the playoffs and even bring the cup back to San Jose for the first time since 2003. The Earthquakes begin their MLS season at home against Real Salt Lake on Mar. 15 amidst their last CONCACAF Champions League group stage tie.
The Earthquakes sport a talented group of forwards led by the incomparable Wondolowski. San Jose’s No. 8 will look to regain his scoring form of two years past after hitting a goal drought last season. He will be joined by Steven Lenhart, Alan Gordon and Adam Jahn, most likely in that order. In their recent preseason win at the Portland Timbers — a match I was fortunate enough to witness in person — Lenhart joined Wondo up front in a 4-4-2 formation. The former, being the more physical forward, would hold the line, often targeted for long balls he could head to the latter, who would often drop deeper to collect the ball from midfield.
It looks likely that the Wondo, Lenhart partnership will continue for much of the season with cameo appearances from Jahn and Billy Schuler as the Quakes look to give the young forwards quality minutes.
The midfield of the Earthquakes returns with plenty of experience. The usual suspects, Sam Cronin and Shea Salinas return, along with the new faces of veteran Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi and rookie JJ Koval. Pierazzi and Koval will be fighting for the central midfield role next to Cronin. While the French veteran will likely win out to begin the season, don’t be surprised if Koval forces his way into the starting eleven midway through 2014.
Salinas will retain his normal left midfield role, while newcomer Atiba Harris will likely take over the right midfield spot. Cordell Cato has the ability to play as both a right mid and right back, and former SuperDraft first-rounder Sam Garza will look to establish his Quakes career after two underwhelming seasons.
Defense will be the name of the game for Mark Watson’s team this season. The central defense will consist of Honduran international Victor Bernardez and American international Clarence Goodson. Longtime Earthquake Jason Hernandez will provide depth at the center back spot. Jordan Stewart will take up the left back position while Cato and Brandon Barklage will fight for the right back role — it will likely go to Barklage as Cato is a midfielder by trade.
John Busch will take up his usual spot between the sticks once again this season. The 34-year-old has been the Quakes’ full-time starter since 2011 and will continue to be until the day he leaves.
This year, the Earthquakes signed their first ever homegrown player, Tommy Thompson. Prior to this, they were the only MLS club not to have signed a homegrown talent.