San Jose Earthquakes general manager Chris Leitch provided updates on the struggling club’s search for a head coach and summer reinforcements in a call with reporters on Monday – and vowed to keep fighting for a place in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs even as they hover in the Western Conference basement with a 5W-8L-7D record.
“We're going to be committed to making the playoffs until mathematically we're out of them, full stop,” said Leitch on the topic of whether it’s time to shift focus to 2023. “That's a goal of this club every single year.
“Obviously, because of the first seven games and only getting three out of 21 points, it's going to be a heavy lift for us to make that charge. But again, this club never says die. This club will always be focused on trying to achieve that goal of making the playoffs again until we're mathematically eliminated.”
It is a testament to the woefulness of the Quakes’ start to the 2022 season, where Matias Almeyda’s tenure petered out in unsightly fashion, that they remain near the bottom of the standings even after marked improvements under interim boss Alex Covelo.
“Just to talk about the current interim staff in place right now, I think these guys have done a very good job. I haven’t done the calculations after last night’s unfortunate loss [to Houston Dynamo FC], but before last night, we were points-per-game with them as a staff at 1.58,” said Leitch. “If you do the run rate at the beginning of the season, that would put us third in the West, I think sixth overall in the [MLS] table.
“Outside of last night, I think we’ve had the fourth or fifth-best home record over that span of games. And look, I say all that not to say that we’re celebrating at the club, but just an acknowledgment that there has been progress since the first seven games. It’s tough. We had a really tough start.”
Covelo and his staff may get the rest of the season to show their viability for a permanent posting, though Leitch, who declined to discuss specific names, did not guarantee it. He said the “robust process” of selecting the Quakes’ next head coach – which ESPN FC has reported includes former club icon Landon Donovan – started with preliminary interviews of “over 10 candidates” and is now approaching the end of in-person conversations with a shortlist of finalists.
Whether Almeyda’s unique tactics and mentality leave any building blocks behind for the next manager to work with seems to be a subjective matter.
“Any time you make a coaching change, there's going to be transition. There's going to be a slightly if not completely different game model, as was the case here between the first seven games and since,” said Leitch. “And that's not to diminish the work that Matias and that staff did before, but there is a little bit of a reboot that happened. But I'd like to say the style that we're playing right now is more on par with the kind of football that we'd like to play here.
“We don't feel like it's a total rebuild, that's for sure. We feel like this roster is very competitive. That's not to say that we're not going to try like heck to improve the squad, because we are.”
Leitch also shed a modest bit of light on San Jose’s summer transfer doings thus far, which include the sale of defender Francisco Calvo to Turkish Süper Lig club Konyaspor and allowing Javier Eduardo "Chofis" López’s loan stint from Chivas to expire.
“Francisco and Chofis were important players for us,” he said, noting defensive reinforcements are now a priority. “Chofis had a pretty good year last year, but was unable to regain the form or fitness here for us this year. So I thought it best to have that loan expire. And then from a Francisco Calvo perspective, there were some things going on there both for him personally as well as professionally, that we felt like the situation of transferring him out was both best for him as well as for us. It was also good to get some revenue for him from that transaction.
“In this transfer window, we have offers out for a handful of players and we hope to have movement on that front here very soon for you,” Leitch added. “It's both looking inside the league as well as internationally.”
Would Landon Donovan be the right coach for San Jose?