10 questions for SJ Earthquakes in 2011

Frank Yallop, John Doyle

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Every training camp opens with a bushel of questions to be answered,
and the San Jose Earthquakes are no different. As they begin their 2011
campaign Thursday with their first official practice of the new season,
here are 10 things for Quakes fans to watch:

1) Starting at forward for your San Jose Earthquakes is…

The
Quakes have retooled their attack, cutting ties with Arturo Alvarez,
Eduardo, Cornell Glen and their first Designated Player, former EPL and
La Liga veteran Geovanni. To replace that firepower, they traded out of
the first round of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft in order to pick up bruising
forward Steven Lenhart from Columbus.

Coach Frank Yallop foresees
a rebound year from Ryan Johnson, who dipped from 11 goals in 2009 to
one last year. But which one will pair with 2010 Golden Boot winner
Chris Wondolowski? Or will it be someone else entirely?

2) What can Wondo do for an encore?

Wondolowski
admits that matching his 18-goal season from last year – including a
late surge to overhaul the Galaxy’s Edson Buddle in the Golden Boot
chase – is almost impossible. But unless Lenhart suddenly increases his
accuracy, Johnson relocates his touch or a mystery guest joins the party
late, the Quakes will once again be dependent in large part on
Wondolowski’s productivity.

3) How will Jon Busch respond to being the unquestioned No. 1?

Busch,
who joined the Quakes just after 2010 began, was a driving force behind
the club’s run to the Eastern Conference Championship. But it’s
important to remember that his inconsistent play handed the No. 1 job
back to Joe Cannon in August, and if not for Cannon breaking an ankle
the following week, Busch might not have been playing at all during the
postseason. With Cannon now in Vancouver, the Quakes no longer have the
luxury of switching back and forth between two ‘keepers so evenly
matched in terms of talent.

4) Who will start at center back?

[inline_node:325288]You
can never have enough quality defenders, so the Earthquakes face the
happy problem of having a glut of talent in the middle of their defense.
Last season, injuries forced Yallop to move Brandon McDonald from
holding midfield to center back, alongside Jason Hernandez, a
partnership each man preferred. But keeping those two together means
there’s no room for second-year player Ike Opara, who impressed as a
rookie before breaking his foot.

There’s also Bobby Burling, a
towering figure who provided some quality play. And in McDonald’s old
spot is Sam Cronin, who played well enough as a holding mid to earn an
invitation to the US national team’s training camp this month. Where do
they all fit in?

5) Whither Khari Stephenson?

The
Jamaican international made a big splash when he arrived midway through
2010, immediately solidifying a wobbly San Jose attack. He was slowed by
injury down the stretch, but did enough that the team wanted to keep
him. However, Stephenson’s old team, Aalesunds of Norway’s top flight,
originally sent him to San Jose on loan, and wants to be compensated for
his full release. General manager John Doyle is working hard to keep
Stephenson but also wants to preserve precious salary-cap space. Can a
new deal be reached to keep Stephenson Stateside?

6) Is Scott Sealy the answer?

If
Stephenson doesn’t return, the Quakes’ next best option as an attacking
force in the middle of the park may be Sealy, who was moved to that
position late in 2010 and earned raves from Yallop. But the Trinidadian
may also be needed as a change of pace at forward. Wherever he plays,
San Jose need him to be productive – maybe more so than he ever has been
in the MLS.

7) Can Andre Luiz make an impact?

Before
the Quakes were debating the relative merits of Stephenson and Sealy as
an attacking center midfielder, they had veteran André Luiz running the
show. But the Brazilian’s knee went bad from the start last year,
eventually necessitating season-ending surgery – leading to the pickup
of Stephenson in the first place. The team is hopeful that the
36-year-old can recover and play a part as something more than a
recruiter for other countrymen. It remains to be seen if that hope will
come true.

8) Will Bobby Convey maintain his form? [inline_node:323027]

After
three years of struggling with the effects of microfracture surgery,
Convey finally felt healthy in 2010, and it showed on the field, where
he was a stalwart for the Quakes on the left side as a wing and as a
fullback. That led to a team-best and career-high 10 assists last
season.

Now the challenge for Convey is to do it again.

9) Will the Quakes stick with longball?

San
Jose brass have talked at various times over the past two years about
moving away from the long-ball, direct-attack tactics that are almost
inevitable for an expansion team and beginning to possess the ball more,
building up pressure with quick, crisp passing. Second-round SuperDraft
selection Anthony Ampaipitakwong exemplified that kind of play with
NCAA champion Akron, but without a major change in culture, can Quakes
fans really buy into the idea San Jose will alter their game plan?

10) Is another DP in the offing?

There
certainly won’t be one at the start of the season; the Quakes are
selling their optimism in what they have coming back from a team that
made last year’s final four. Reading between the happy sound bites, it
appears as though San Jose will have to prove during the first half of
the season that they have a playoff-worthy base in order for the front
office to sign off on a midseason influx of talent – which could include
another DP.

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes


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