With just hours left until opening day, MLSsoccer.com is nearly done previewing each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2012 and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. This is part one of two previewing San Jose Earthquakes' 2013 season. You can find Part 1 here.
2012 record: 19-6-9 (66 points); 72 GF / 43 GA (+29 GD)
Depth chart: 1. Jon Busch, 2. David Bingham, 3. Evan Newton
Strengths: Busch remains excellent at things he can control – staying in shape, keeping his reflexes honed, vocally marshaling San Jose’s defense – and still battles the thing he can’t: his 5-foot-10 frame. Nick Rimando may get all the headlines as MLS’ preeminent shot-stopper shorter than six feet, but Busch isn’t far behind in terms of conjuring seemingly impossible saves.
Weaknesses: Statistically speaking, there’s one number from Busch that could concern fans and the front office: His save percentage has dropped in his three seasons with the Quakes, from 77.9 in 2010 to 70.6 in 2011 to 62.6 last season. That number ranked 18th out of 20 MLS goalkeepers with at least 1,000 regular-season minutes played in 2012.
Wild card: Publicly, third-year keeper Bingham has said all the right things while biding his time behind Busch. But at some point, that reserve might crack – especially if Bingham does well in CONCACAF Champions League play, where he’ll presumably get some opportunities to start.
Depth chart: RB: 1. Steven Beitashour, 2. Dan Gargan, 3. Jacob Hustedt, 4. Peter McGlynn; CB: 1. Víctor Bernárdez – Jason Hernandez, 2. Ty Harden – Nana Attakora, 3. Tommy Muller; LB: 1. Justin Morrow, 2. Ramiro Corrales.
Strengths: Bernárdez made an immediate impact as an MLS newcomer last year, solidifying an at-times slipshod backline. Beitashour and Morrow flourished on the outside, turning in seasons that got both invited to the US national team’s January training camp. Hernandez is steady as ever, one of only two current Quakes to have lived through the club’s 2008 exhibition campaign.
Weaknesses: Ike Opara decamped for Kansas City following three up-and-down seasons in San Jose, so the Quakes looked to rebuild their depth by adding MLS vets Gargan and Harden through the Re-Entry Draft and bringing back Attakora after a failed European stint. With Beitashour undergoing two surgeries this winter to work on problems related to his sports hernia, Gargan will step in to start the season.
Wild card: Beitashour’s 13 assists over the past two years are the most for any MLS defender, but he didn’t have any after June 30 – a fact attributable in part to his hernia problems. A return to health for the San Jose native will be a boost to the Quakes’ offense.
Depth chart: RM: 1. Marvin Chávez, 2. Sam Garza, 3. Cordell Cato; CM (defending): 1. Sam Cronin, 2. Brad Ring; CM (attacking): 1. Rafael Baca, 2. Mehdi Ballouchy; LM: 1. Shea Salinas, 2. Ramiro Corrales, 3. Cordell Cato
Strengths: The Quakes got everything they could have ever wanted from the combination of Chávez and Salinas. The pair, brought in last winter, gave San Jose a burst of flank speed they otherwise lacked, and they combined for 20 assists, feeding balls into the penalty area for the Quakes’ hungry goalscorers to latch onto. Baca and Cronin, while lacking flash, provided the grit that San Jose needs in the center of the park.
Weaknesses: Chávez begins the season unavailable due to a knee sprain incurred in January while on Honduran national team duty. The Quakes made a move towards replacing that missing quickness by adding Cato from Seattle.
Wild card: At full strength, the Quakes’ preferred formation may be to use Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon together, Bash Brother-style. That would push league MVP Chris Wondolowski into the midfield, potentially at the expense of Salinas or Baca – or maybe, late in games, in favor of a defender.
Depth chart: 1. Chris Wondolowski, 2. Steven Lenhart, 3. Alan Gordon, 4. Mike Fucito, 5. Marcus Tracy
Strengths: As Mötley Crüe once said, “Goals, goals, goals.” (That was what they said, right?) Wondolowski (27, tying Roy Lassiter’s MLS single-season mark), Gordon (13) and Lenhart (10) all set career bests last year as the Quakes racked up a franchise-record 72 goals. Finishing is not going to be a problem for this club.
Weaknesses: When healthy, there are hardly any. Of course, the Quakes can’t say that, at least not at the moment. Gordon, Lenhart and Tracy are all still recovering from injuries incurred last year, and while the idea of bringing them along slowly is probably a good idea for keeping them available during the playoffs, it leaves some question marks in the short term.
Wild card: Fucito caught the Quakes’ eye when he was with Seattle, but comes to San Jose after a disappointing year split between Montreal and Portland. The Quakes have had plenty of success with reclamation projects already – can Fucito be their next one? He’ll get his chance to pan out immediately, with an expected start against Real Salt Lake to open the season.