After stumbling through their summer of discontent, the San Jose Earthquakes finished the 2011 regular season on a positive note as a renewed emphasis on possession strategy led to increased success on the field. Young players Simon Dawkins, Rafael Baca, and Steven Beitashour brought an energy to the game that was complemented well by veterans Ramiro Corrales, Chris Wondolowski, and Jason Hernandez. The doom and gloom of their summer swoon made way for a cautious optimism as to what was in store for the following season.
Now, the team has arrived to that point, and in the annual rite known as "the offseason roster purge," the Earthquakes have made a series of moves that they hope will capture last October’s good feelings and build on them leading up to the 2012 regular season opener on March 10. Less than eight weeks separate today’s opening of preseason camp and their home opener kickoff against the New England Revolution, and the technical staff of the Earthquakes will have no less than seven new faces to integrate into their system.
Head coach Frank Yallop, in discussing his decisions in last week’s MLS SuperDraft, talked openly about needing to stretch opponents during the run of play. He made forward Sam Garza his first draft choice because he valued the UCSB standouts speed on the wings. In a busy December, Yallop and general manager John Doyle also brought in speedsters Marvin Chavez of FC Dallas and Shea Salinas of Vancouver Whitecaps FC to bolster the wings. With a healthy stable of central midfielders, going out and adding true outside midfielders was an offseason priority.
Leading the attack in 2012 will be MLS’s leading scorer over the past two seasons — Chris Wondolowski. He will be paired up top with one of two target forwards, both of whom made their Quakes’ debuts in 2011 and both of whom recently signed new multi-year contracts with the team — Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon. Wondolowski has clearly shown his penchant for finishing in front of goal; it will now be up to his striking partners and wingers to consistently feed him the ball.
Looking more closely at the Earthquakes midfield, the roster going into preseason camp is missing its most important name, that of on-loan Tottenham Hotspur starlet Simon Dawkins. While coach Yallop remains cautiously optimistic that a deal can be agreed with Spurs to return Dawkins to San Jose for another season, the English midfielder made a strong impression in his MLS debut and has increased his chances of working his way into the Tottenham first team. Until those details can be worked out, something that is unlikely to be concluded in the near term, the Quakes coaching staff will have to start their preparations for the 2012 season in limbo as to whether Dawkins will return.
If the Spurs sensation does not come back to MLS, the Earthquakes central midfield will take on a familiar look, as incumbents Sam Cronin, Brad Ring, and Khari Stephenson have the inside track on the two starting roles available. Given that Ring and Cronin are similar in style, expect one of the two to be a first choice selection in partnership with the tall Jamaican international. Newly acquired Jean Alexandre of Real Salt Lake will also look to crack the starting XI as a defensive midfielder.
The biggest question going into the SuperDraft was whether the Earthquakes would select a defender. Well, in three picks, they passed on beefing up that position, and will enter preseason camp with seven defenders on the roster. Newly acquired Honduran international Victor Bernardez looks to pair with original Earthquakes 2.0 defender Jason Hernandez in the center of the back four, with recovery Generation Adidas standout Ike Opara the likely first back up. Manning the outside positions will be Steven Beitashour and Tim Ward on the right and Ramiro Corrales and Justin Morrow on the left. Given Corrales’ success playing centrally toward the end of the 2011 campaign and Opara’s apparent vulnerability to injury, the Earthquakes defensive corps will need to be beefed up prior to the start of the season. The team has plenty of space on the roster to do just that, and out-of-contract Nana Attakora could be one of the names eventually added to the mix. Other possibilities might come through the supplemental draft on Tuesday or from free agent signings still to be announced.
Minding the net in 2012 will be the second most valuable player on the Earthquakes, goalkeeper Jon Busch. A former MLS ‘keeper of the year, Busch has been spectacular in goal for the Quakes since being acquired off the discarded pile prior to the 2010 season. He showed no sign of slowing down last season, and barring injury should anchor the Quakes defense again this season. His first back-up, David Bingham, has made great strides over his first year in MLS, and will prove a capable fill-in if Busch is ever unable to go. Draft pick Chris Blais will have a chance to be added as the third ‘keeper on the 2012 roster, as well a pair of academy products Kendall McIntosh and Jesus Guzman. While likely inconsequential as to whether the Earthquakes can be successful this season, who of the three wins the battle to be signed as the third San Jose goalkeeper will be interesting to watch in the preseason.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES 2012 TRAINING CAMP ROSTER:
Goalkeepers (3): David Bingham, Chris Blais, Jon Busch
Defenders (7): Steven Beitashour, Victor Bernardez, Ramiro Corrales, Jason Hernandez, Justin Morrow, Ike Opara, Tim Ward
Midfielders (11): Jean Alexandre, Anthony Ampaipitakwong, Rafael Baca, Marvin Chavez, Sam Cronin, Joey Gjertsen, Jacob Hustedt, Ellis McLoughlin, Brad Ring, Shea Salinas, Khari Stephenson
Forwards (4): Sam Garza, Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart, Chris Wondolowski
FRESH FACES (HOW ACQUIRED):
M Jean Alexandre (Trade from Real Salt Lake)
GK Chris Blais (SuperDraft, No. 33 Overall)
D Victor Bernardez (Signed from Anderlecht)
M Marvin Chavez (Trade from FC Dallas)
M/F Sam Garza (SuperDraft, No. 6 Overall)
M Jacob Hustedt (SuperDraft, No. 25 Overall)
M/D Shea Salinas (Trade from Vancouver Whitecaps FC)