The names tossed about when the San Jose Earthquakes head coaching job came open last month, and in the weeks since, all made a certain sort of sense. Marc Dos Santos is regarded as probably one of the two or three best assistants in MLS, and his success as a manager in the lower divisions in the US and Canada makes him a pretty snug fit for any job opening here. Caleb Porter is an out-of-work, MLS Cup-winning manager who's been agitating to get his foot back in the door somewhere in the league. Jeremy Gunn is right down the street (Palo Alto is basically next door to San Jose), and is the most successful college coach since Bruce Arena.
All of those would have been relatively safe and eminently sensible hires, and I suspect two of them will be managing in the league come 2019.
None of them would've moved the needle like the hiring of Matias Almeyda has. I'm still in at least a little bit of shock, so let's just use bullet points:
- In Almeyda's first coaching job, he guided River Plate – yes, that River Plate – to promotion back to Argentina's top flight.
- In his second job he took over Banfield ... and guided them to promotion as well.
- In his third job he took over Chivas, guided them out of the Liga MX relegation zone and led them to their first title of any kind in nine years (the 2015 Copa MX).
- Two years later, he led Chivas to their first league title in 11 years, and claimed the league/Cup double for good measure.
- His last act as Chivas manager was leading the Goats to this past year's Concacaf Champions League title, the club's first international trophy in 56 years.
I still say he got outcoached in both the semifinals and finals of the CCL, but his team finished their chances while RBNY and TFC didn't. He was the guy holding the trophy at the end. That's what matters most.
His work with Chivas – rescuing them from relegation, then claiming four titles in four years (with some truly bad seasons sprinkled in, but still) – put him on the radar for the El Tri head coaching job:
Almeyda is a big name, with a big profile. This is not a Tata Martino-level hire, but it's in the same neighborhood. Just bringing that knowledge and experience -- and his network -- to bear on roster decisions can only bolster the club's talent ID and recruitment.
And that's his wheelhouse: Almeyda has spent most of this decade taking bad teams and making them good. Beyond anything else, that's the most useful bullet point when taking over a team that's struggled as much as the 2018 Quakes.
It's obviously hard to diagnose San Jose's 2019 roster from this far out, and it's hard to know how he'll adjust to life with the MLS salary budget. Almeyda had minimal spending constraints with Chivas, though per club policy he could only sign Mexicans (including a pair of US-born Mexican-Americans in Isaac Brizuela and Miguel Ponce). He also effectively managed an involved board and ownership group, all while aggressively promoting and integrating young talent. He will play the kids.
As for how those kids will have to learn to play: 1-v-1 battles all over the pitch. Chivas under Almeyda man marked everyone, everywhere. It's a safe bet his version of the Quakes will do the same.
And it's a safe bet more than just the usual suspects will have their eyes on this team. The Quakes just swung for the fences -- and when you do that, everybody pays attention.