Doomed from the jump.
A GIF is worth a thousand words:
I wrote it a million times back in the winter that bringing back Matias Almeyda for a fourth year that he didn’t want, and the fans didn’t want, and pretty clearly that the players didn’t want, was going to kill the Quakes’ season. And so it went, as their borderline playoff-caliber performance under interim head coach Alex Covelo – 1.32 ppg as of this writing – was just totally obviated by an 0W-4L-3D start to the season under Pelado.
They did lay some groundwork to improve in 2023 and beyond, so I don’t think it was an entirely lost season. But they were not set up for success in 2022.
Formation and tactics
Almeyda trotted Jackson Yueill out as a center back, both in a 4-1-4-1 and in a 3-4-2-1, a bunch over the first seven games. I think that’s the most hilarious thing anybody in MLS did all year.
Once Covelo took over he scrapped a lot of the experimental stuff Almeyda was doing and went to a pretty reliable, pretty standard 4-2-3-1. San Jose have actually ended up amongst the league leaders in possession (they’re actually leading the league as of this writing), and have done a decent job of generating goals out of that, mostly by virtue of some quality wing play feeding Jeremy Ebobisse, who’s thriving as he’s finally gotten a chance to be a full-time No. 9.
There’s a foundation to build upon.
The Quakes haven’t had a winning streak of any length all year, so there’s not a lot to choose from. They have had, however, a disproportionate number of big wins over traditionally good teams in the West – 4-3 over the Sounders, 3-2 over Portland, 2-1 over LAFC, etc – so those, which are spread pretty evenly throughout Covelo’s tenure, each have a claim.
There’s nothing like a rivalry game though, right?
That was probably San Jose’s best 40-minute stretch of the year. They ended up having to hang on for dear life in order to escape with all three points, but for one half, they were damn near unstoppable.
The other option here: I really think that they made a very good hire in Luchi Gonzalez, and I think it signals a real intent to try to build an FC Dallas or Philadelphia Union-type identity. Certainly, with the type of talent available in the Bay Area (much of it already in San Jose’s academy), producing that kind of conveyor belt of high-level pros is possible.
That 0W-4L-3D stretch to start the season, which led to the conscious decoupling with Almeyda, is the obvious answer here. But I think a better one is the 0W-4L-2D stretch immediately after that win over the Galaxy listed above.
San Jose were on the verge of pushing into the playoffs for real following that win in Carson, but instead of finding any sort of momentum during the most important stretch of the year, one loaded with six-pointers against other teams in the Western Conference playoff fight, they just fell apart.
They didn’t have enough attacking punch and nowhere near enough solidity at the back, and as soon as the schedule condensed, it showed.
I’ve been screaming since 2017 that Ebobisse was a 15+ goal striker in this league, so yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and take a victory lap here. And yeah, I was still saying as much early this year despite the fact that he’d been deployed primarily as a winger throughout his half-decade in Portland:
I will never understand that decision. But the Timbers’ loss is San Jose’s gain, and $1.2 million in General Allocation Money (GAM) sure looks like a steal for an in-his-prime No. 9 who checks all the eye test boxes you could want and is liked quite a bit – if not outright loved – by the underlying numbers.
At one point, three years ago, Yueill looked like he was going to develop into a commanding, Anibal Godoy-esque two-way central midfielder – a true No. 8 who got on the ball all the time, drove the game forward at almost every opportunity, plugged gaps defensively and was basically Mr. Reliable.
It hasn’t worked out like that. Yueill’s still a starter, but I don’t think he’s a better player than he was as a 22-year-old, and I wouldn’t stake my life on him being a part of Gonzalez’s build next year despite his obvious talent.
I think that’s an even bigger disappointment than Cade Cowell’s ho-hum year. You can deal with that from an 18-year-old homegrown forward who’s still adding pieces to his game, but Yueill, at 25, is supposed to be something close to the finished product. And he just hasn’t been good enough.
Five Players to Build Around
- Ebobisse (FW): Any time in his MLS career he’s gotten a run of games at center forward, he’s been very productive. I don’t think there’s a Golden Boot in his future, but there could be a 20-goal season.
- Cristian Espinoza (RW): One of the best chance creators from the wing in the entire league, Espinoza’s a foundational piece.
- Jamiro Monteiro (CM): Another in-his-prime foundational piece, though I think it makes more sense to push him deeper into a No. 8 role and add a high-level No. 10.
- Cowell (LW): San Jose might sell him this winter, but a full year as a full-time starter at left wing could see him put up big numbers – and lure in a bigger offer from Europe.
- JT Marcinkowski (GK): He’s had a down year relative to the past two seasons, but he’s still a top 10 ‘keeper in the league, and potentially more than that.
The first thing they’ve got to do is figure out who they’re going to sell and who they’re going to keep. They already got an offer they couldn’t refuse for Marcos Lopez from Feyenoord (and Francisco Calvo to Konyaspor, my god), and reportedly turned down offers for both Cowell and Benji Kikanovic this summer, as well as trade offers for Yueill. I have to imagine that, at the very least, one of Cowell or Kikanovic will be gone as it doesn’t make a ton of sense to try to develop two young wingers with similar strengths and weaknesses for the same spot.
Everything else on the list – even a No. 10 – pales in comparison to that. Make the right signing there and everything can snap into place. Get it wrong, and it’s likely to just all fall apart again.