As the 2022 MLS season draws to a close, clubs trickle over the line of being mathematically eliminated from the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Though games remain, focus shifts to the offseason and what's next.
Here, we'll be covering three questions for every team moving forward. Think of it as an exit interview, if you will. Matt Doyle, as always, has you covered on his preeminent season-in-review for each club (San Jose Earthquakes version). Read that, too.
He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.
The Matias Almeyda era did not have much of a future by the end of the 2021 season. Both parties were ready for a divorce.
Almeyda started the season as San Jose Earthquakes head coach anyway, before being let go just seven games into the season. Alex Covelo took over as interim head coach but the Quakes were never a real player in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs race from pretty much opening day.
Luchi Gonzalez was appointed head coach this summer… to take over after the FIFA 2022 World Cup. The current USA assistant and former FC Dallas head coach leads the Quakes into a new era for 2023. San Jose haven’t won a playoff game since 2012. The Luchi hire and questions answered this offseason will go a long way to determining whether they’re on the path back to success or not.
When Gonzalez took the first team head coach role at FC Dallas, it was his first role in senior coaching. He was never an assistant previously, making his name as the head of FCD’s prolific academy.
Youth development was his strength. He played a big role in molding the likes of Ricardo Pepi, Bryan Reynolds, Reggie Cannon, Tanner Tessmann and more – those now competing in Europe’s top leagues. But, even by his admission, there was some growth he wanted to experience on the senior side. The best way to do that was as an assistant.
Gonzalez’s year under Gregg Berhalter with the USMNT has been extremely helpful, both in terms of man/staff management and on-field tactics.
“I’ve evolved now, seeing the highest level tactically and the highest level talent with the senior national team,” Gonzalez said after his hiring was official. “My philosophy has evolved. It’s natural.”
In Dallas, Gonzalez always wanted to break teams down with the ball. They went to the playoffs during his first two seasons and did so with an aesthetic style. That won’t change. But some of the finishing patterns never quite took, which led to results dipping. They couldn’t get out of the hole in 2021 before he was let go. Berhalter’s Columbus Crew teams were very good at those finishing patterns.
Berhalter’s coaching tree (Nico Estevez in Dallas, Josh Wolff in Austin) continues to expand. Expect some general commonalities between the USMNT, FCD and ATX in San Jose’s style next season.
Gonzalez also admitted he needed to be a little more dogmatic. The 42-year-old is looking forward to his second head coaching gig.
In addition to the recognition of needing to be more dogmatic, Gonzalez noted a couple of times in his introductory press conference the points of investment/ambition. Estevez – his successor in Dallas – understood it, too, only taking the gig with assurances that things would change.
“I lived experiences in Dallas and now understand the highest level of standards at US Soccer,” Gonzalez said. “Those are standards I’m carrying with me as I grow. For me to be part of a project to grow and reach its potential, then there has to be a minimum standard of investment. Not just a minimum, but an ambition. I felt full commitment of that from leadership and ownership.”
Gonzalez said all the right things in his first interviews as Quakes head coach. The club/ownership has given him assurances of the budget. He thanked his new bosses. When new coaches are hired, it’s always time for optimism (as it should be!).
What will that look like this offseason? We’ll see if it comes true. Top-end roster flexibility is there.
San Jose have one Designated Player and two U22 Initiative spots open. Jamiro Monteiro has a club option for 2023, meaning they could have another DP spot open if they rework the deal or decline the option outright.
The Quakes began turning over the roster this summer, particularly in defense.
Center back Rodrigues, right back Carlos Akapo and left back Miguel Trauco were all acquired at the end of the window. Maybe more will come: Center backs Aaron Long (Red Bulls) and Alexander Callens (NYCFC) will be two of the most coveted free agents this winter as well.
Jeremy Ebobisse has been a fantastic addition, acquired via a trade from Portland last summer. So ambition isn’t all tied into discretionary spending or lavish transfer fees. Investment in the academy is prevalent, with numerous players breaking through or on the cusp of doing so. They have one of the most promising groups of teenagers in the league. How can Luchi maximize those talents?
Ebobisse is clearly a high-level No. 9 in this league and not signed to a DP deal. That’s very useful in roster building.
Cade Cowell is one of the brightest young talents in the league. He didn’t take The Leap™️ this year, but will enter his age-19 season next year. The homegrown winger’s already got 77 MLS appearances under his belt and is wanted by a bunch of clubs across Europe. The budding US international is part of the core moving forward – until he’s transferred. Will homegrown midfielder Cruz Medina, one of the highest-rated academy talents in the country, be ready for some minutes in his age-16 season next year?
Rodrigues has shown positive signs in three starts. He and Nathan could make up the first-choice center back pairing. JT Marcinkowski has faced about a billion shots over the last few years and has held up fine enough.
Argentine winger Cristian Espinoza has quietly been one of the best chance creators in the league, while Jackson Yueill figures to play a key role under Gonzalez. Other emerging academy talents will play real minutes, too.
Again: This team certainly needs some upgrades. But they’re not starting from scratch.
A couple more thoughts:
- Will Monteiro be here next season?
- Will the new fullbacks be starting caliber?
- How many minutes will US youth int’l/homegrown midfielder Niko Tsakiris be ready for next season?