2012 record: 19-6-9 (66 points); 72 GF / 43 GA (+29 GD)
With just hours left until opening day, MLSsoccer.com is nearly done previewing each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2012 and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. This is part one of two previewing San Jose Earthquakes' 2013 season. You can find Part 2 here.
Setting the Scene
WATCH: San Jose wraps up 2013 preseason
The last time the second-generation San Jose Earthquakes enjoyed success, with a Conference Championship run in 2010, it all came tumbling down the following year. This time around, coming off a Supporters’ Shield campaign in 2012, the Quakes hope to use that accomplishment as a launching pad to even greater heights.
San Jose bring back 13 of their 14 most-used players from last year’s 19-6-9 club. Only the departure of two-year Tottenham Hotspur loanee Simon Dawkins kept it from being a clean sweep.
With the Quakes qualifying for CONCACAF Champions League play, they focused on adding depth – such as MLS vets Nana Attakora, Dan Gargan and Ty Harden – to support their scoring triumvirate of Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart and defending league MVP Chris Wondolowski, who moved into Designated Player territory. But with a raft of injuries from the jump, including Gordon and Lenhart, that plan will be put to the test immediately.
In and Out
IN: D Dan Gargan (12/14 – Re-Entry Draft Stage 2), D Ty Harden (12/14 – Re-Entry Draft Stage 2), F Mike Fucito (1/17 – Trade from Portland), D Peter McGlynn (2/15 – Supplemental Draft), D Nana Attakora (2/22 – Transfer from FC Haka), M Cordell Cato (3/1/13 - trade from Seattle), D Tommy Muller (3/1/13 - SuperDraft), F Adam Jahn (3/1/13 - Supplemental Draft)
OUT: M Joey Gjertsen (11/28 – Option declined), M Khari Stephenson (11/28 – Option declined), D Tim Ward (11/28 – Option declined), D Ike Opara (12/12 – Trade to Sporting KC), M Simon Dawkins (12/31 – Loan ended)
Star Attraction: Chris Wondolowski
At this point, there isn’t much Wondo has failed to achieve as a member of the Quakes. MLS All-Star? Check. Golden Boot winner? Check. League MVP? Check. All-time single-season goal leader? In a tie with Roy Lassiter, check. If not for his age, Wondolowski would undoubtedly be talked about as the next great American soccer export. As it is, he’ll have a chance to further his case for earning a statue outside of San Jose’s planned new home. The only fear: that chasing his own record-tying 27-goal haul from 2012 will prove too difficult.
Unsung Hero: Rafa Baca and Sam Cronin
On any team, the guys who do the dirty work in the center of the pitch never see as much of the spotlight as the speedy sprinters or flashy goalscorers. Yet without Baca and Cronin maintaining tempo, clamping down and regaining the ball time and time again, San Jose’s offense would stall out. It wasn’t just that Tressor Moreno, San Jose’s biggest-name acquisition last winter, was a bust in 2012; Baca shoved him out of the starting XI and refused to be displaced. Meanwhile Cronin, liberated from Toronto FC, has become bedrock in Frank Yallop’s lineups.
Ready for Primetime: Shea Salinas
Salinas returned last year to the Quakes – where he began as a rookie in 2008 – after bouncing from expansion side to expansion side. Salinas started brightly before a ridiculous rugby tackle from New York’s Rafa Márquez on April 14 left him with a broken clavicle. By the time Salinas returned, Dawkins was ensconced at left wing. With Dawkins gone, the job is once again Salinas’ to grab – and with Marvin Chávez still recovering from a sprained MCL, Salinas’ flank play will be vital to start the year.
Storylines to Watch
1. How full is the trainers’ room? San Jose ended 2012 banged-up and open 2013 in the same fashion. Steven Beitashour, Chávez, Gordon and Lenhart – all critical pieces for Yallop – begin the campaign on the bench, still recovering from offseason surgeries. If they don’t return quickly, things could get dire in a hurry.
2. Wondo on the wing? The Quakes were at their most dangerous last year when they paired Gordon and Lenhart and set Wondolowski loose from midfield to find crevices in the opposing defense. Not finding a true replacement for Dawkins, one potential scenario – whenever Gordon and Lenhart are healthy together – is to simply slot Wondolowski out wide.
3. How’s that target feel? San Jose will not be sneaking up on anyone this season, and after a flying 7-1-1 start last year, the Quakes open 2013 with a stacked March: Real Salt Lake, New York and Seattle at home, and a visit to MLS Cup finalists Houston.
What He Said
“I think we all have a very bitter taste in our mouths after the way last season ended, and that is most definitely going to be motivation for us to keep progressing forward and take the next steps as a club. And that isn’t only doing well in the regular season, but performing well in the playoffs and making sure we get deep and hopefully fighting for an MLS Cup. That is our goal, that’s the mindset and we’re hoping to achieve that.”
– Jason Hernandez, who clearly still remembers the Quakes’ playoff defeat last year at the hands of LA Galaxy
If Everything Goes Right
The Quakes made the jump from postseason maybes to Supporters’ Shield winners last season. Now the trick is making sure they stay there – and doing so in relative good health after watching injuries caught up to San Jose during their playoff flameout. The Quakes will never cop to it publicly – just being top-five in the West is as far as Yallop will go in terms of setting goals – but they clearly feel this is a team that can, when at full strength, compete for MLS Cup.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.