2013 San Jose Earthquakes Preview: Next level for these Quakes is MLS Cup

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Winning the Supporters' Shield in 2012 was a great achievement for the San Jose Earthquakes, but losing in the first round of the playoffs took a lot of the sheen of their successful season. Back to make amends in 2013, these Earthquakes have made it their goal to win the MLS Cup championship.

2012 record (finish): 19-6-9, 66 points (1st in West, Supporters' Shield winners).

Key additions: Nana Attakora (D), Mike Fucito (F), Dan Gargan (D), Ty Harden (D), Peter McGlynn (D), Tommy Muller (D), Cordell Cato (M).

Key losses: Simon Dawkins (M), Ike Opara (D), Khari Stephenson (M).

Projected starting XI: Jon Busch, Steven Beitashour, Victor Bernardez, Jason Hernandez, Justin Morrow, Shea Salinas, Sam Cronin, Rafael Baca, Ramiro Corrales, Steven Lenhart, Chris Wondolowski.

Bold prediction: Chris Wondolowski will win his third MLS Golden Boot award, but will be edged out for MLS MVP by LA Galaxy forward Robbie Keane. Wondo gets the bigger prize when he leads San Jose to the club's third MLS Cup championship.

Biggest fear: Early season injuries lead to a slow start, and the Earthquakes end up in a hole they can't dig themselves out of in time to qualify for the playoffs.

The San Jose Earthquakes finished the 2012 season with a very sour taste in their mouths courtesy of a first round playoff loss to rivals LA Galaxy. Following the greatest offensive season the club has even known, the Quakes entered the postseason banged up and could not overcome a hot LA side that was peaking at the right time. Players and coaches vowed then that in 2013 they would approach the regular season in a much different way.

The same injuries that followed the Earthquakes into the playoffs are still of concern to start the 2013 season. Offseason procedures to Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart, Mehdi Ballouchy, Steven Beitashour, and Marvin Chavez leave head coach Frank Yallop with a threadbare roster from which to choose his opening match starting XI. The litany of walking wounded in training, highlighted by the players listed above, alters dramatically the predicted starting line-up for the Quakes. So who gets the opportunity to step up? Newcomers and stand-bys likely will get the call.

The Earthquakes added a lot of depth at the defender position, so Yallop will have no problem recharging his lineup from the new additions. MLS veterans Dan Gargan, Ty Harden, and Nana Attakora, along with rookies Peter McGlynn and Tommy Muller, give the Quakes plenty of options along the back four in a season that will also include U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League tournament campaigns.

The key man in the middle of the defense is Victor Bernardez. The Honduran international will have a busy summer as he also will be hoping to lead his country through World Cup qualifying, though the Earthquakes are certain to still lean on the runner-up MLS Defender of the Year to captain the back line. In his absence, returning Canadian international Nana Attakora will likely be the first centerback off the bench.

In the midfield the Earthquakes will acutely feel the loss of Simon Dawkins. Loaned to Aston Villa instead of San Jose by his club Tottenham, Dawkins will be a free agent in June, but his future career is likely to take place in the EPL. With Marvin Chavez out with injury to start the season and uncertain of when he will be ready to play, Yallop will employ Shea Salinas as his featured winger. The club also signed 20-year old speedster Cordell Cato to help at outside midfield, but MLS original Ramiro Corrales looks the better bet to start the season on the wing. Not sitting still, the team has made overtures to an international player with national team experience to bolster their squad, but the process of securing his services is ongoing and likely won't be resolved before the season opener.

Up top, MLS MVP Chris Wondolowski, a freshly minted Designated Player, will captain the forward crew in 2013. With Bash Brothers Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon both a month away from match fitness, the Earthquakes will look to the well-traveled Mike Fucito to partner Wondo up top. Not the tallest of players, Fucito will add a more energetic component to the forward line and will distract defenders with his constant motion into open spaces. Great with his head around goal if he can create space for himself, much like Wondolowski, Fucito will have his opportunity to prove he can be an MLS starter.

Will the Earthquakes follow up their Supporters' Shield winning 2012 season with an equally impressive campaign in 2013, or will injuries and expectations derail the season much like they did for the 2011 Quakes? Remember that a sequel to "The Goonies" was never made, and this year's squad is highly unlikely to repeat the late match performances that were the highlights of 2012. This team will need to find their own inspiration and motivation to be successful in 2013. The talent is there; will the results follow?

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