There were some highs, there were some fun moments and there was always chaos, but particularly lately, a divorce between the San Jose Earthquakes and head coach Matias Almeyda seemed inevitable.
It wasn’t if, but when.
The ‘when’ officially came on Monday, with the Quakes parting ways with Almeyda and his staff. As such, the biggest questions for general manager Chris Leitch in an ensuing virtual media availability revolved around timing.
Why now, seven games into the 2022 season? Why not during the offseason, when fractures between the staff and front office began to appear publicly with Almeyda heading into the final year of his contract?
“We haven’t had the results we’ve wanted,” Leitch said Monday. “I was focused on trying to improve the quality of the roster and give Matias different tools with the hope this year was different than years past. From both perspectives, Matias and the club, we felt those results weren’t coming.”
"Best for everyone"
Since Leitch took over as GM, first as interim in the summer then given the full-time job in the offseason, San Jose acquired the likes of Jeremy Ebobisse, Jamiro Monteiro, Jan Gregus and Francisco Calvo, aiming to tweak a roster with some talent that finished 10th in the Western Conference standings last year.
“The hope was in the offseason we’d enter the 2022 season with fresh faces and our results would be different than they are, with the possibility of extending Matias,” Leitch said.
San Jose are the league’s lone winless team, with just three points after their first seven games of the campaign (0W-4L-3D record). They have conceded a league-worst 17 goals.
Alex Covelo has been named interim manager after leading their MLS NEXT Pro team, with Chris Wondolowski and Steve Ralston named to his staff as assistant coaches, along with Earthquakes II assistant Luciano Fusco.
“We’ve had ongoing discussions (about Almeyda's future) and for sure this week,” Leitch said. “It culminated with both parties realizing this (split) was the best for everyone.”
In 2018 when Almeyda was hired, it was widely applauded as a very ambitious hire after he led Liga MX's Chivas to the Concacaf Champions League title. It didn’t work out, with just one Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearance (2020) in three-plus years and a tactical ethos that became seemingly easy to play through.
Now, Leitch and the front office embark on a coaching search to find Almeyda’s successor.
“We’re going to do a search immediately to find our next coaching staff, but I feel really good about this coaching staff in place,” Leitch said. “They’re going to have a great opportunity to show what they can do for this team in the short-term. I don’t know how long this (search) is going to take, but we’re starting right now.”
"This club needs to win"
Leitch noted that tactical expertise and, perhaps as importantly after some of the particularly heavy losses in the last few years, tactical flexibility are key qualities in the next manager. MLS experience will be highly valued as well.
“A couple things are really important. I will prioritize the MLS experience part of it,” Leitch said. “A head coach with high tactical acumen and flexibility, someone that’s a leader and a culture builder. Honestly, this club needs to win.”
One name at the top of the list is US men's national team assistant Luchi Gonzalez. Sources have told MLSsoccer.com for weeks that Gonzalez would be a top choice if and when Almeyda departed, but it’s extremely unlikely the former FC Dallas manager would leave the USMNT staff before the Qatar 2022 World Cup in November.
San Jose, who have made the playoffs twice since their 2012 Supporters' Shield-winning season, will conduct a full search and aren’t afraid to take their time.
“I’ve been around Major League Soccer for well over a couple decades, so of course I know some really good coaches,” Leitch said. “But we’re going to honor what a coaching search should be, we’re going to look at a lot of diverse backgrounds, coaches with many different experiences. We’re not trying to make a fast next coach hire, we’re trying to make the right next coach hire. If that takes a couple months, so be it. I’m willing to take enough time to make sure this team has the right candidates.”
As for now, Covelo and his interim staff will go in a different direction tactically than Almeyda’s extreme man-marking scheme.
“I do think you’ll see different tactics being applied in a very short order in the first team,” Leitch said.