MLSsoccer.com is previewing each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2011 and ending with the league's newest addition, the Montreal Impact. This is part one of two previewing San Jose's 2012 season. You can find Part 2 here.
Setting the Scene
The San Jose Earthquakes went into 2011 with a roster largely unchanged from the team that went to the Eastern Conference Championship in 2010. The results, however, were hardly the same; torn apart by injuries and a battle of wills between coach Frank Yallop and left winger Bobby Convey, the club’s highest-paid player, San Jose endured a club-record 13-match winless streak en route to an 8-12-14 finish.
With the big-ticket contracts of Convey and André Luiz coming off the books, the Quakes set to work immediately this winter rebuilding their midfield from the ground up. In came Marvin Chávez, Shea Salinas and Sam Garza to add speed on the flanks. Jean-Marc Alexandre arrived as a destroyer in the middle of the field. Perhaps most importantly, Colombian international Tressor Moreno was brought in to play maestro for San Jose’s attack.
Add in the re-signings of Simon Dawkins, Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon, and an offense that generated just 40 goals last season looks miles better.
With Bobby Burling lost to Montreal and Ike Opara working to prove he can stay healthy, San Jose added Honduran international and World Cup veteran Víctor Bernárdez.
And lest we forget, the man who’s grabbed at least a share of the league’s scoring title two years running, Chris Wondolowski, is back for another year after a second consecutive winter salary bump.
In and Out
IN: M Shea Salinas (11/30: trade from Vancouver); M Jean Alexandre (12/1: trade from RSL); M Marvin Chávez (12/16: trade from FC Dallas); D Víctor Bernárdez (12/21: free/Anderlecht); F Sam Garza (1/12: SuperDraft); M Jacob Hustedt (1/12: SuperDraft); G Chris Blais (1/12: SuperDraft); F Cesar Diaz Pizarro (1/17: supplemental draft); D David Tiemstra (1/17: supplemental draft); D James Kiffe (1/17: supplemental draft); D Tyler Krumpe (1/17: supplemental draft); F Sercan Güvenisik (1/26: Preußen Münster); M Tressor Moreno (2/2: free); M/F Simon Dawkins (2/14: loan)
OUT: D Bobby Burling (11/23: expansion draft); M Matt Luzunaris (12/1: waived); M/D Bobby Convey (12/2: trade to Sporting KC); D Chris Leitch (12/12: Re-Entry Stage 2/LA Galaxy); M André Luiz (12/12: option declined); M Jacob Peterson (12/12: option declined); F Scott Sealy (12/12: option declined); G Andrew Weber (12/12: option declined); F Chris Agorsor (2/10: released); F/D Donny Toia (2/10: released)
Star Attraction: Chris Wondolowski
Not to sound like Jan Brady, but for much of the rest of MLS, the Quakes are seen as “Wondo, Wondo, Wondo!” And with good reason: Wondolowski proved his march to the 2010 Golden Boot was no fluke, bagging another 16 goals last season despite missing four matches while on Gold Cup duty with the US national team. Perhaps the biggest concern for Wondolowski is the idea that the law of averages is waiting to catch up with him; he hasn’t missed a match due to injury since 2009, so one could argue the 28-year-old striker is due to take a knock.
Unsung Hero: Steven Beitashour
Beitashour came to the Quakes as an unheralded second-round pick in the 2010 SuperDraft, but if he has another year like 2011, it won’t be long before plenty of people know his name. Beitashour languished behind Chris Leitch to start the 2011 season, registering only one appearance in the Quakes’ first 10 matches. But soon after being inserted into the lineup at the end of May, the 25 year old blossomed, unspooling assists from long range – he collected a team-high seven on the year – and using his pace to frustrate opposing wingers.
Ready for Primetime: Steven Lenhart
Lenhart (pictured at right) had half a breakout season in 2011, scoring five goals and notching three assists before July was through, then departing on a leave of absence for family reasons that stretched through the end of the year. Good target men never lack for work on Yallop’s sides, and Lenhart was especially deadly at heading home 40-yard crosses from Beitashour, who liked to launch just a few strides inside the midfield line. Lenhart said he expects to pick up where he left off last year, which included a hat trick against D.C. United; if he does so, this could be the first time since 2009 where the Quakes’ scoring leader is someone other than Wondolowski.
Storylines to Watch
1. How will Frank Yallop use his new toys? Thanks to all the injuries and absences the Quakes went through last year, Yallop’s lineup selections often were made for him, simply by virtue of so few healthy players being available. With a significantly bolstered depth on hand, San Jose is no longer locked into one style, so Yallop’s choices from week to week become that much more important.
2. Protect the 1-0 lead. The Quakes scored first in 16 of 34 MLS matches last year, but they only went 7-4-5 in those games, and that winning percentage (.594) ranked 16th out of 18 clubs. San Jose didn’t add that much to their back line in the way of new faces, so improvement must come from within for the defense.
3. Warning: schedule congestion ahead. With nine matches during a 39-day stretch during June and July, a fast start is imperative for the Quakes.
What He Said
“I think this year, with the moves Frank and John [Doyle, the Quakes’ general manager] have made in the offseason, it’s kind of given us a different dynamic, a different look as a team. I think there’s a lot of potential for this team. We’ve said that before, but … I’m really happy with where the team is right now.”
– Quakes center back Jason Hernandez
If Everything Goes Right
If Moreno lives up to his advance billing as the first true No. 10 in the new Quakes’ existence, it should open up all kinds of doors for a San Jose offense that struggled – outside of Wondolowski – for long stretches last year. And if Ike Opara stays healthy for a full season, the Quakes defense could once again be a unit that closes out 1-0 wins with a flourish.
Doyle said earlier this month that this is the best roster the new Quakes have assembled for the start of a season. Is it enough to earn a top-three spot in a crowded Western Conference? That may be a stretch, but a return to the MLS postseason is certainly realistic, if not expected.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WATCH: Quakes fans come out to support stadium measure