SAN JOSE, Calif. – Mark Watson has 19 MLS matches and a CONCACAF Champions League slate to prove he’s worthy of keeping his interim job as San Jose Earthquakes coach beyond 2013.
Watson’s first decision might be one of his most important in that quest: How far will he turn from the tactics of his predecessor and former boss, Frank Yallop?
The truth will begin to come out Saturday, when Watson debuts on the San Jose sideline in the Quakes’ trip to Colorado. And even as Watson insisted to reporters last Friday that “I don’t think this team needs radical changes,” he offered some hints to new points of emphasis in the wake of Yallop’s stunning departure – namely, regaining some of the grit in the backline and midfield which has been missing of late.
“I think we’re going to work on being really organized defensively,” Watson said. “The stats show that we’ve conceded a lot of goals. We’ve conceded the first goal in a majority of our games, which has to stop. We can’t keep digging a hole for ourselves to climb out of. And I think we haven’t moved the ball as well as we have in the past. So we’re going to work a little bit on that, keeping possession.
“[We’re] still looking to get forward and getting the ball in the guys’ feet that we want in the attacking third. But we’ll maybe be a little more patient in how we get there.”
That dovetails with comments from team president David Kaval, who said the direct style employed by Yallop – which turned in great results last year behind the success of target men Alan Gordon (13 goals) and Steven Lenhart (10) – could be on the wane.
“We’re sitting down, John [Doyle, San Jose’s general manager], Mark and myself this coming week, and we’re going to talk about things like that – about philosophy, about style, about tactics – and allow Mark, with the guidance of John Doyle and his many years of experience, to formulate those decisions,” Kaval said. “There is no foregone conclusion that we will play a direct style, like we’ve played in the past. That is not something that’s 100 percent happening. It could happen . . . but it’s being evaluated.”
Whatever style the Quakes feature under Watson, both he and the club need it to work in a hurry. San Jose is 3-6-6 overall, 1-5-5 in their last 11 MLS matches and still winless on the road this year.
“The team’s not in a good situation, record-wise,” Watson said. “So my job is to turn things around and get some wins. . . . We’ll work with different scenarios, different lineups and try to find the right mix to get us that win to kind of turn the tide for us.”
For Kaval, the best possible outcome for the rest of this season would be uncovering another hidden coaching diamond in the wake of a Yallop departure. When Yallop left the Quakes in 2004 to take over the Canadian national team, longtime assistant Dominic Kinnear ascended to the top job and led the club, first in San Jose, then in Houston after the franchise’s relocation, to a Supporters’ Shield and back-to-back MLS Cup titles.
“I think one great thing about Frank and what he’s done with his assistant coaches, he’s really empowered them, wherever he’s gone,” Kaval said. “You can look at Dominic Kinnear as a good case in point. And Mark has a lot of experience. He knows the players, and I think he’s uniquely qualified to take the helm right now and to make an immediate impact for the team.”