Thank you, TAM: How San Jose Earthquakes kick-started their squad for 2017

SAN JOSE, Calif. – After a fourth straight season of failing to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2016, the San Jose Earthquakes knew that changes needed to be made.

So when new general manager Jesse Fioranelli arrived earlier this year, he set about restocking the roster with seasoned internationals, and he had an infusion of Targeted Allocation Money to thank for it.

Forwards Marco Urena and Danny Hoesen, as well as midfielder Jahmir Hyka and defender Florian Jungwirth, were signed in part using TAM, and all four players have contributed mightily to the Quakes’ hot start to the 2017 MLS season.

“I want to compare it to an Italian-made custom suit,” said Fioranelli. “We have been working on creating a team that is ready and aligns itself with the profiles of players we were looking for in a very precise manner. We have taken advantage of Targeted Allocation Money, because it is a resource we can draw from in order to be compliant with the salary cap.”

In San Jose’s 1-0 season-opening smothering of the Montreal Impact, Urena and Jungwirth were instrumental in pressuring the Impact into turnovers, disrupting their possession and limiting last season’s Eastern Conference Championship finalists to zero shots on goal. In the Earthquakes’ dramatic 3-2 comeback win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, Hyka dazzled after coming on at halftime, registering two assists to push San Jose’s record to 2-0 for only the second time in franchise history.

“If you look at Danny, Marco, Flo and Jahmir, these are all guys that are pretty experienced but still young and coming into good ages in their careers,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear. “They’ve spent some good time in some good leagues, and they should help our team. It’s only two games in now, but I am happy with what’s going on. Our roster is shaping up to be a pretty good roster, and that is nice to see.”

Team captain Chris Wondolowski has seen the ups and downs of Earthquakes soccer for the past nine seasons, and he’s impressed with how the new crew is fitting in.

“I like that we are always knocking on the door, and the mindset that they have brought us,” said Wondolowski. “Everyone that has come in has done a great job and really put their fingerprints on our team.”

Thank you, TAM: How San Jose Earthquakes kick-started their squad for 2017 -

Jungwirth in particular has settled in nicely with San Jose, and his postgame accounts of his experiences so far always gravitate to the curious assessment of “hilarious.” The German defender certainly has a playful side, but he is proving to be a force on the field.

“I am really proud of this team,” said Jungwirth. “We all fight for each other, every one of us.”

Nicknamed “the Albanian Messi,” Hyka (pictured above) has quickly asserted himself as the creative midfielder the Quakes have craved for many seasons. His skill on the ball has already proven effective at unlocking defenses, and his assertive play was instrumental in completing San Jose’s comeback win over Vancouver.

“We want him to have a good start,” said Kinnear. “He’s finding good space out there where he is facing the goal and his first touch is direct and offensive. We know he’s a good player, and we want him to have a good season for us.”

Though he hasn’t gotten on the scoresheet yet this season, Urena has played the most important role of the four TAM acquisitions. The Costa Rican forward’s relentless pressure on the ball has allowed the rest of the formation to play higher up the field, and the Quakes already have scored more than twice as many goals per game as they did last season.

“I am really happy here because I can give them something that was missing before,” said Urena. “When everyone is thinking the same way, it is much easier to score goals.”

It’s still early days in the Earthquakes makeover. But thanks to some shrewd wheeling and dealing by Fioranelli and technical director Chris Leitch and key contributions from Team TAM, the vibe around Avaya Stadium has never been more positive.

“When you talk to the guys that have been here a long time, they are really happy with us because we came here to give extra energy,” said Urena. “It’s been a plus for the club. We have started well: two games and two wins. We still have work to do, but it is good that we can say to other teams that playing San Jose is going to be tough. It is a good feeling we have.”