With a new stadium about to open and local lad Dominic Kinnear back at the helm, there’s a palpable sense that the good times are back in San Jose.
Yet the really good times go way back, to the era of 2001-05 during which the Quakes won two MLS Cups with Kinnear assisting head coach Frank Yallop and reached the playoffs in both of Kinnear’s seasons in charge. Once the team had departed for Houston, where Kinnear and the Dynamo claimed two more crowns and lost to the Galaxy in back-to-back finals, the times in Silicon Valley got tough.
Starting with the team’s re-birth in 2007, only twice (2010 and 2012) has it reached the playoffs. It lost to eventual champion Colorado in the 2010 playoffs and after a year in the wilderness, won the Supporters’ Shield in 2012 only to stumble out of the postseason against the bitter rivals and eventual champions from Los Angeles.
Yallop’s second stint in charge ended midway through the 2013 season. His replacement and former assistant, Mark Watson, departed late in the 2014 with Kinnear’s return imminent. Kinnear has injected more speed into the lineup by acquiring veterans Sanna Nyassi and Marvell Wynne, and the addition of Leandro Barrera will bring some flair to complement the skills of playmaker Matias Perez Garcia, who suffered a torn meniscus in just his second game with the team last August and managed only six appearances (four starts), one goal, and one assist.
Wynne is first-choice at right back, and during preseason Kinnear has been refining the central partnership of Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson, who managed just 10 MLS games last year because of an injury to his big toe. On Thursday, the team announced the signing of Portuguese defender Paulo Renato, 27, a former U-20 international who has been played for several second division clubs in his native country.
The central midfield has also been tweaked: Sam Cronin was traded to Colorado in January, which leaves JJ Koval, Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, and first-round SuperDraft pick (No. 4 overall) Fatai Alashe, who has recovered from a lingering groin injury and played his first preseason minutes in Wednesday's scrimmage against the semipro San Francisco Stompers of the NPSL. Nyassi joins Shea Salinas, the team’s assist leader last year with eight, as an option on the wing. Wide play has always been a facet of Kinnear's success and there's certainly more pace to be utilized.
The Quakes conclude their preseason schedule Saturday against the Galaxy with a “soft opening” of their brand-new Avaya Stadium. So far they have one win in four games against MLS opposition, a 2-0 defeat of Colorado in Las Vegas on Feb. 15. During a three-game stint in Tucson, Ariz., in early February they lost to Houston, 3-2, and tied Vancouver (1-1) and Portland (0-0).
In those four games, Adam Jahn has scored three goals; he’s vying for a starting spot along with Steven Lenhart and newly signed Designated Player Innocent Emeghara to pair up with Chris Wondolowski. Kinnear is also measuring the progress of U.S. U-20 Tommy Thompson, who started eight of his 13 appearances last year as the team’s first Homegrown signing.
Kinnear doesn’t have a lot of holes to fill, but a ninth-place finish (6-16-12, 30 points) suggests significant upgrades are needed. One large chasm is in goal, vacated by veteran Jon Busch (now with the Fire) and now occupied by David Bingham, 25, who has played just five league games the past four seasons, and Bryan Meredith, who is the same age and has played 12 MLS matches.
Busch led the league last year in saves with 137, 26 more than his nearest challenger, and if opponents get that many looks at goal this season, it’s likely the new man in charge won’t be much enjoying his new place of business.
Kinnear has been a good servant of the league, but this is a look back for this Earthquakes club instead of a look ahead. Management doesn't seem to know much about the game other than marketing, so I guess we can't expect too much. Truth is, I've seen BU14 matches that have showed more skill on the ball. Fans get excited about highlight reels. Where is the excitement?