For the San Jose Earthquakes, what's old is new again.
In a move that will please many long-time fans of the Quakes, the club announced today that Dominic Kinnear would return to serve as head coach at the conclusion of the 2014 MLS regular season. He will take over for Mark Watson, who was relieved of his duties effective immediately.
"We could not be happier to welcome Dominic Kinnear home to San Jose, to lead the Quakes in our new stadium," said Earthquakes president Dave Kaval. "It is a historic day for our franchise. It demonstrates our club's continuing investment to field a world-class soccer club."
Kinnear joined the coaching staff of rookie head coach Frank Yallop ahead of the 2001 MLS season. An assistant for three seasons -- two of which ended with MLS Cup championships, Kinnear took over the lead coaching job in 2004. In 2005, his second year in charge, Kinnear guided the team to its first MLS Supporters' Shield.
"I am excited to return to the San Jose Earthquakes," said Kinnear. "I've been a fan, a player, and a coach of the franchise for many, many years, and it will be nice to be able to return."
Kinnear continued his role as head coach of the team when it was uprooted from San Jose following the 2005 MLS season and moved to Houston. He has served in that capacity for the Dynamo throughout the club's entire nine-year existence, winning two MLS Cup Championships and finishing up as runners-up two additional times.
"From the Dynamo's perspective, we are certainly very, very sorry to see Dominic go," said Dynamo president Chris Canetti. "He has been an integral part of our organization and really shaped who we are as a club."
The Dynamo will miss the postseason this year -- only the second time that has happened in nine years -- and a organizational change in the club's soccer operations seemed inevitable. It was reported in September that Kinnear had been given permission to speak with the Earthquakes about potentially returning to the club, and those conversations continued in earnest earlier this month, much faster than either side anticipated.
"We had planned to make this announcement at the end of the season," said Kaval, "but circumstances required us to speed that up in order to acquire Dominic Kinnear as our head coach."
The timing of the announcement was a bit unfortunate for both sides, as speculation grew claiming Kinnear would become the next Earthquakes head coach served to expedite the courtship and the fate of Watson looked preordained. Indeed, Watson was fired less than a day after leading the Quakes to a 2-1 win over C.D.S. Vida in an international friendly -- the first win of any kind by the Quakes in nearly two-and-a-half months -- and not given a chance to finish out the MLS season.
"It's everything about timing," said Earthquakes general manager John Doyle. There's only so many times you have an on-ramp and you've got to take those chances."
The Quakes had flirted with bringing Kinnear home -- he hails from nearby Fremont, CA -- ever since the franchise was rebooted in 2008. When Yallop left the team in June 2013, speculation swirled that Doyle had reached out to his childhood friend Kinnear to gauge his interest in returning to the Bay Area. But the Dynamo head coach, fresh off of successive MLS Cup Final appearances, was not allowed to consider the vacancy. That all changed this year.
"All along the way, this has been a professional move," said Kinnear. "It's not just that I am going home to be with my friends and family, I'm also going there to coach a soccer team. It's a big responsibility."
Doyle indicated that the Earthquakes had spent some assets to bring Kinnear, still with one year on his contract with the Dynamo, to San Jose, but he chose not to elaborate on what those assets might be. A typical exchange in MLS of this nature has in the past been reported to include allocation funds.
Kinnear joins the Quakes at a time that the team is suffering through its worst season in MLS. The veteran coach knows the challenge ahead and seems ready to jump in following the end of the tenure in Houston.
"I haven't 100% thought about it," explained Kinnear. "We still have two games left here, and I have a responsibility to the owners to try and win as many games as possible. Every team is a project going into an expansion year. There's going to be an expansion draft, there's also Re-Entry. Obviously, if you look at the standings, there is room for improvement and to climb up higher in the standings.
"There's a lot of pressure involved," continued Kinnear. "The Western Conference as we know is a very tough conference. The Quakes are having a difficult year, as the Dynamo are. It's a big responsibility. I am a fan of Bay Area soccer and I grew up in that area and watched MLS grow as well. This isn't me going home and having parades and parties. I am going home to be the coach of this team and to make it successful in 2015 and beyond."