MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

New San Jose GM Chris Leitch talks Matias Almeyda, Chofis future

For more than a decade, Chris Leitch has called the San Jose Earthquakes home.

Leitch arrived in San Jose in 2009, spending the last three seasons of his playing career at the club. His first post-playing job was to take over as technical director of the club's academy in 2012, then he was promoted to technical director of the first team in 2015. This summer, he was interim GM after the club parted ways with Jesse Fioranelli.

This week the Quakes made what was long assumed official: They dropped the interim tag and Leitch was named general manager. Now, the 42-year-old who's "Quakes through and through" is responsible for the club's new era. He leads the team forward as they plot a path toward the top of the Western Conference.

Almeyda's future

Leitch and his staff have no shortage of key decisions to make this winter. Most pressing is the future of head coach Matias Almeyda.

Almeyda has one year left on his contract and has often been linked as a target for several big Liga MX clubs during his tenure with the Quakes. Notably, the Argentine manager won the 2018 Concacaf Champions League with Chivas Guadalajara, a victory over Toronto FC.

Almeyda arrived in San Jose ahead of the 2019 season, guiding them to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs once in his three seasons at the club. Leitch was asked directly if it was "100% definitive" that Almeyda would be their head coach come opening day.

“Matias and I met this morning, which is no different than any other morning from July," Leitch told media on a virtual press conference. "We’ve tried to be very close since my time as interim GM to now being the official GM. The intent is that we’re aligned on doing what’s necessary for this club to be successful in 2022.”

“Having worked closely with Matias, I feel he is very committed to this club," Leitch later added. "He wants to bring this club a championship, he’s said that multiple times. I feel he’s focused on making sure we’re doing everything we can to achieve that objective.”

Improving the roster

If Almeyda is to remain in place, as Leitch intimates, focus shifts to the playing roster. The Quakes have an open DP spot (alongside Cristian Espinoza and Eduardo "Chofis" Lopez) and are using one U22 Initiative slot on left back Marcos Lopez.

Chofis’ future is fluid. The Quakes need to decide soon if they will extend his loan from Chivas a further six months, trigger a purchase clause or let him return to Mexico.

“The decision on Chofis, similar to every other decision, those discussions are ongoing," Leitch said. "Matias, myself and my colleagues have been discussing roster decisions. The majority of these decisions are due on option deadline day, which is December 1.”

On multiple occasions, Leitch, who'll be supported in his role by the now-retired MLS record goalscorer Chris Wondolowski, pointed to exploring “all mechanisms” to improve the club after missing the playoffs in 2021. During his time as interim GM this summer, he acquired Jeremy Ebobisse from the Portland Timbers in a big trade for $1.167 million in General Allocation Money.

He also holds high hopes for the club’s academy.

“Player development is a key pillar of my plan,” Leitch said. “Making sure the pathway from the academy to the first team exists and exists in a meaningful way. We have a very good academy. But this club wants to win, we want immediate results. So it’s not just young players, but looking at every mechanism available to us to add value to our roster.”

Current homegrown signings Cade Cowell, Tommy Thompson and JT Marcinkowski are key parts of the first team.

The Quakes haven’t traditionally been among the league's big spenders, and though he was asked several questions regarding that subject, Leitch was non-committal about whether that will change with him as GM.

“It’s no mystery that top quality players in this league come from all corners of the globe,” Leitch said. “Some cost a lot of money, some don’t cost as much. We’ll be looking at every mechanism possible to acquire those players.”