With Chivas USA set to play the San Jose Earthquakes tonight, I thought it was time to get the scoop on the Bay Area denizens. Who better to set the record straight than Robert Jonas of SB Nation Quakes blog Quake, Rattle and Goal? Big thanks to Robert for taking the time out of his busy schedule (he went to the MLS All-Star game this week - what did you do? I sat at home) to answer my questions!
The Goat Parade asks Quake, Rattle and Goal:
1. Since Chivas and San Jose last played, there's been considerable changes taking place for the Earthquakes. Can you catch us up on the coaching and player arrivals and departures since May?
The biggest shock of the season for San Jose, despite the obvious drop in the standings for the defending Supporters' Shield winners, was the dismissal of last season's MLS Coach of the Year Frank Yallop. In what was called a mutual decision by the club, Yallop's departure came in early June as the team struggled to find their footing in league play and on the heels of a disappointing exit from the U.S. Open Cup at their first opportunity. For nearly two years, San Jose had not lost two games in a row in league play, but that streak ended with losses at FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake, the latter result a shellacking at the RioT, and Yallop was out of the door. Without a replacement lined up, the Earthquakes promoted long time assistant Mark Watson to the head coach position on an interim basis through the end of the season.
On the player front, the news has been more promising, as the signings of national team mainstays Clarence Goodson (USA) and Jaime Alas (El Salvador) and English journeyman Jordan Stewart provide the Quakes with much needed depth at center back, outside midfielder, and left fullback respectively. The Earthquakes, very close to being realistically eliminated from the MLS postseason race if they can't continue winning, hope the two newcomers can provide a boost to their efforts to climb up the Western Conference table. Time will tell if the moves were too little, too late.
Not so much a newcomer, Chris Wondolowski provides a welcome sight to the Earthquakes supporters who haven't seen the reigning MLS MVP at Buck Shaw Stadium for 77 days. Wondo has been getting it done for the U.S. Men's National Team throughout the month of July, scoring 6 goals -- one more than in the entire MLS season to date -- en route to earning a share of the Gold Cup's Golden Boot award. After a brief visit to Kansas City, Wondolowski returns to San Jose with a renewed confidence and energy brought on by his Gold Cup success.
Missing from the team, though since the end of last season, is midfield maestro Simon Dawkins. Back with Tottenham Hotspur after two seasons on loan with San Jose, the outside midfielder with the best possession ability on last year's roster, the Earthquakes missed both the creativity and calmness that Dawkins delivered in the attacking half. In no small way has the absence of Dawkins gone unnoticed, as then-coach Yallop called the most significant player not back for the 2013 Earthquakes.
2. The Quakes got a significant win over the Portland Timbers last weekend, but for every good performance, they seem to have two or three bad outings. What's the outlook of the team at this point of the season? Are folks still talking up a playoff run, or does that seem like too big of a reach in 2013?
No one on the team is going to give up on qualifying for the playoffs until mathematically it is eliminated. Given that such an inglorious event is unlikely to occur for many weeks to come, the stated goal of making the postseason remains the company's line. Will it come to pass? Not many teams throughout MLS history have gone on a 14 game end of season run the like of which the Earthquakes would need to make it a plausible achievement. Still -- cliche alert! -- that is why they play the games.
More realistic for San Jose, with the added players and returning reinforcements, is a push to qualify for the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League with a good run in the tournament's group stage. The Quakes open up CCL play next Wednesday at the Montreal Impact, so it is possible that Saturday's game against Chivas USA may take somewhat of a backseat to midweek efforts. That the Earthquakes play their first two CCL matches on the road adds a level of urgency to getting off to a good start and not dropping points away.
3. Who has surprised you (both good and bad) this year for San Jose, and why?
Starting with the negative surprises seems only natural given the Earthquakes 8th place position in the West, so topping the list has been the rash of injuries to players that were being relied on to continue the club's winning ways of 2012. Marvin Chavez, Alan Gordon, and Steven Lenhart, all absent to start off the regular season, have sporadically made their ways back into the starting lineup, but rarely have all three seen the field at the same time in 2013. Couple in the countless suspensions, earned on the field or assigned by the MLS DisCo, and the Earthquakes have never found stability in their Starting XI. For Wondolowski, Gordon, and Lenhart together, their combined productivity of 50 goals over all of last year has dropped to only 10 goals so far in 2012.
Good news has been harder to find, but in Supplemental Draft pick Adam Jahn, the Earthquakes seemed to have found a quality player for little investment other than a league-minimum contract. The former Stanford University star has been a revelation in his rookie season and is second on the Quakes in goals scored, though all of those came early in the season as the big name players worked their way back to availability. Jahn has proven to be confident and effective in his limited rookie season appearances.
4. (Bonus) Prediction for Saturday's match?
Chivas USA has historically been a tough team for the Quakes to figure out, but after posting successive shutouts against the Goats in September of last year and earning a hard-fought 2-2 draw at the Home Depot Center earlier this season, San Jose feels as if a weight has been lifted off its shoulders. Successive wins against Seattle and Portland have the players dreaming of making the playoffs, and in order to make that a reality, nothing short of 3 points against Chivas USA will do.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!