SAN JOSE, Calif. – On the eve of the 2017 season, when San Jose Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli looked at his team’s roster and how efficiently it made use of his club’s salary-cap resources, he couldn’t help but smile. The fit of San Jose’s new players felt, to him, like a finely tailored Italian suit.
Yet even Fioranelli couldn’t envision the fashion in which coach Dominic Kinnear has lately stitched together San Jose’s lineup.
“I didn’t expect it, to be frank,” Fioranelli told MLSsoccer.com by phone Tuesday. “But I’m excited to see it.”
That goes double for Quakes fans who spent much of last year hoping for more punch from a club that finished with a league-worst 32 goals.
To help address that deficiency, San Jose utilized Targeted Allocation Money to add the likes of Dutch striker Danny Hoesen (photo, above), Albanian international midfielder Jahmir Hyka, and Costa Rican international forward Marco Ureña.
Few observers thought that the Quakes would use all three at the same time, however -- not with team captain Chris Wondolowski also in the mix. But Kinnear found a way, putting Hoesen out at left midfield, flipping Hyka to the opposite wing, and letting Wondolowski roam freely off Ureña's line-leading.
“We talked about getting all the guys on the field at the same time, and the only way we were going to do it – you can’t play with three center forwards through the middle – is to try to spread them out,” Kinnear told reporters last week. “You want healthy competition, but also sometimes I think you look at it and go, ‘Okay, is there a way we can get our attacking players on the field at the same time, rather than doing one-for-one [changes]?’ That was the idea behind that.”
Hoesen, who joined San Jose on loan from Dutch side FC Groningen, was game to get a chance to play, even if it meant moving to a relatively unfamiliar spot.
“Was it a gamble?” Kinnear, pictured below, told MLSsoccer.com after training Tuesday. “I don’t think so, because everybody wanted to play. We just wanted the guys to play well.”
Kinnear first put his group together in Minnesota on April 29 and while it led to more chances against the Loons, San Jose had to ride Florian Jungwirth’s close-range strike from Wondolowski’s pass on a corner kick to win 1-0.
“You see that we have a good amount of possession all the time, just the final ball is all wrong or too hard or too soft or intercepted,” Hoesen said before the Quakes faced Portland. “I think if we’re more precise with the final ball, there should be more chances and, obviously, more goals as well.”
He proved to be correct, as Hyka tallied his second goal of the season and Wondolowski – the league’s leading active scorer – bumped his career total to 125 with his first brace of the season.
The three forwards all did wind up in the center of the pitch on San Jose’s third goal, and all of them had a hand in the play. Hoesen served as a back-to-goal outlet on the edge of Portland’s attacking third, feeding the ball back to Jungwirth. Ureña checked back, drawing the attention of two Timbers defenders and affording Wondolowski space behind the Portland line. Jungwirth’s 25-yard pass into the visitors’ area was weighted perfectly so Wondolowski could clip a shot past onrushing goalkeeper Jeff Attinella.
First line of defense
Perhaps as impressive was the fact that San Jose posted a second consecutive clean sheet even with their most offensive-minded XI on the pitch. That was due in no small measure to the work the Quakes’ attackers would put in on the defensive end. Kinnear cited Wondolowski’s 78th minute interception – 35 yards from his own goal – as an example.
“It’s not just four guys out in the field to attack and let the other guys defend,” Kinnear told MLSsoccer.com. “I think all of them have really bought into it and we’ve played well because of that. I think our defensive pressure up the field makes it a little easier for the guys behind them.”
The success so far of this lineup has made Kinnear’s job in picking a squad easier as well – for now, at least.
“If the team’s playing well and the guys who are involved in the lineup are playing well, it’s one of those things where they deserve to keep on playing,” Kinnear said. “But you have to adapt. People watch games and they do video and they say, ‘Okay, this is what these guys are trying to do.’ So you have to be willing to try to attack in different areas.”