SANTA CLARA, Calif. – For years, the San Jose Earthquakes have bristled at the notion that their style – even when it was generating a franchise-record 72 goals in 2012 – made them the Stoke City of MLS.
With the hiring of Mark Watson as the club’s new full-time coach, general manager John Doyle wants to chart a dramatically new stylistic course – copying the blueprint from one of the world’s best clubs.
“Who would we like to play like? Like Bayern Munich,” Doyle said Wednesday in his season wrap-up with reporters. “I think we want to be dominant on set pieces. We want to be able to keep the ball. ... We need to be able to play different ways.”
That’s not to say that Doyle thinks the Quakes are going to match the quality of Thomas Müller, Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben or Bastian Schweinsteiger – “Obviously, the talent level [of Bayern] is pretty high,” Doyle said with a laugh. But it does mean that he wants to be able to attack from multiple locations on the field, in the same way that the UEFA Champions League title-holders can strike from anywhere.
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That desire dovetails neatly with the philosophy of Doyle’s new coach. Taking over in midseason on an interim basis without much chance to change offensive personnel, Watson continued the Quakes’ high rate of attacks derived from the wing play of Shea Salinas and Cordell Cato.
After signing a multi-year deal Wednesday, Watson said that he will be seeking to bring more diversity to the Quakes attack as the club moves forward this offseason.
“We like it when our wide players get the ball and are really dynamic going forward. But I wouldn’t say that’s Option A,” Watson said. “Sometimes, open up the field and keep the ball and pick your moments and try to attack. Other times, if you’re being pressed and you’re in a dangerous area, I want to play off the strikers.
"I don’t think it’s [an edict], ‘We are going to play this way.’ I want our players to be aware of making good decisions on the ball, and being versatile in the fact that we want to be able to break teams down in different ways.”
To that end, Doyle said that his top two targets for offseason acquisitions are help in the center of midfield and a front-running striker with pace enough to stretch opposing back lines.
That would put pressure on midfielders Rafael Baca and Sam Cronin – who often played what seemed to be an “empty bucket” style under Yallop, tasked with winning back balls and cycling them to the wings. It would also turn the microscope on target forwards Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart, who enjoyed career years in 2012 but failed to match those heights this season for a variety of reasons.
“I would say we’ve identified those players for four to five months, where we’ve seen a need for those positions,” Doyle said. “We always have a running scouting list. ... There’s players [available] that we’re very interested in right now.”
Geoff Lepper covers the San Jose Earhquakes for MLSsoccer.com.