Yet however shocking the move might have seemed at the time, the results of interim coach Mark Watson are speaking for themselves.
In his first half-season as an MLS head coach, Watson is 9-5-2 in league play, meaning the 43-year-old is guaranteed a winning record for 2013, regardless of how San Jose’s last-ditch playoff push turns out. The Quakes, who host Colorado in a must-win match Wednesday (10:30 pm ET, MLS Live), sit four points back of the Rapids and Galaxy with just three MLS games remaining.
“I think we’re all very happy with where we’re at right now,” Watson told reporters last week. “We were in a tough situation, the record wasn’t great. ... We were having a hard time keeping clean sheets and preventing goals. We were quite a ways off the pack.”
While San Jose have undoubtedly benefitted from a return to health for several players, plus the mid-year additions of defenders Clarence Goodson and Jordan Stewart, the sharp work of Watson draws praise from throughout the Quakes’ locker room.
The former Canadian international defender has focused unwaveringly on shoring up San Jose’s defense, which has posted six shutouts in the last 11 league matches, with a goals-against average of just 0.82.
“He’s done a good job,” Goodson said of Watson. “This is a business where results matter, and you can’t argue with the results that we’ve gotten. If we had that record through [a full season], that’s 18 wins. You’re talking about winning the Supporters’ Shield.”
Defender Steven Beitashour said players’ familiarity with Watson – who had been a Quakes assistant since 2010 – helped make the transition run more smoothly than if the club had gone out and selected a new coach from outside the organization.
“I think everyone was shocked by the decision of everything going down, but we all know Mark,” Beitashour told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “We all love Mark. He’s a great coach. And he’s done a lot of work with us ever since he got into that position. So we’re 100 percent behind him and hopefully we can continue to win.”
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Watson will still have to work some magic to get San Jose into the postseason field. But if the Quakes do finish among the Western Conference’s top five, it becomes that much harder for the front office to dislodge Watson from his post. Team president David Kaval said at the time of the changeover that the second half of this year serves as an extended trial for Watson.
“It’s one of those [situations] where I thought that we had a group that definitely could turn it around,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com. “We knew that we weren’t playing well enough for results. We knew that we had the skill and the guys in the locker room. We didn’t go out and get a whole different team.
"But I think Watty’s done a great job since he stepped in. ... I’m thrilled to see what Watty has done.”