Barely a week into the club's offseason, the hard questions are already swirling about the required roster overhaul that the San Jose Earthquakes will need to perform if they want to improve on their last-place finish in the Western Conference.
In a press conference with general manager John Doyle on Friday, numerous topics were broached on what direction he and new head coach Dominic Kinnear hope to point the club in for the upcoming 2015 season. The conversation began with a simple assessment of 2014.
"Obviously, the 2014 season was a huge disappointment," said Doyle. "Everybody knows that. It was very difficult."
So what's next? One thing is for sure: The Quakes will take a thorough look at their current roster, and many changes will be made. In fact, the only two players Doyle mentioned by name as definite returnees for 2015 are Chris Wondolowski and Matias Perez Garica, the club's two Designated Players.
Meanwhile, starters such as Sam Cronin and Jason Hernandez, who are on team options, and Steven Lenhart, Atiba Harris, and Jon Busch, who are out of contract, will have their fates decided in the next three weeks, according to Doyle.
A big question mark surrounds the potential return of midfielder Yannick Djalo, who was on loan from Benfica of Portugal for the 2014 MLS season. Though he made only 18 appearances and played a total of 1136 minutes for San Jose - less than half the minutes logged by Wondolowski - Djalo at times looked like the best player on the field for the Quakes.
"Everybody who watched him play knows he's one of the most talented players in Major League Soccer," said Doyle. "It's just whether he can be on the field or not."
And therein lies the rub. According to salary figures released by the MLS Players Union, Djalo had a base salary of $200,000 in 2014, a number that increased to $300,000 in guaranteed compensation - third highest on the club behind Wondolowski and Clarence Goodson.
However, in return the Quakes got a part-time player that produced a grand total of 3 goals and 2 assists. Not exactly the statistics you want out of an attacker that is earning nearly DP money.
"To put a ton of resources into someone who plays a third of our games and in that third he has to take some games to get fit again and up to speed, we can't do that," added Doyle.
That isn't to say that the Earthquakes are not interested in bringing Djalo back for next season. Rather, Doyle said that he would travel to Portugal to talk with Benfica's president, to talk to Djalo's agent, and see if there is another loan deal possible that would make financial sense for San Jose.
"We'll look to see if there is an option," said Doyle. "It's a difficult situation, it's a difficult decision, just because of the amount of time he was injured."
Doyle, the only general manager the club has known since it returned to MLS in 2008, has been in this situation before, so he remains realistic that the odds of signing Djalo to a second successive loan deal have actually been enhanced by the midfielder's less than stellar season.
"When players on loan do really well, you have no chance of getting them back," said Doyle. "That's obvious. We had it in the past with Simon Dawkins. The first year Simon came in, he was injured, he didn't do too well, and Tottenham said, ‘We'll make another deal for Simon.' So we get Simon back for the second year.
"That was great. Simon had a wonderful year, and we are thinking we would love to have him back. You speak to Tottenham, and Tottenham say this is going to be the price: a million pounds and a million pound salary. All of a sudden, back in 2013, that was impossible for the San Jose Earthquakes. It wasn't something that we could do."
Dawkins was the first loanee produced from the Earthquakes partnership with Tottenham Hotspur, and he bounced back from a disappointing 2011 season to be an integral part of San Jose's 2012 Supporters' Shield winning campaign. A relative bargain in both seasons with the Quakes, his resurgence priced him out of the spending range the club was in.
Call it, "The Dawkins Dilemma."
Perhaps it was a silver lining for San Jose in 2014 that Djalo had a similar first season with the team as did Dawkins. His weak performance might keep the Benfica product in the affordable category for the Quakes for another season.
"With Djalo, had he scored 15 goals and been healthy all season and the team had a wonderful season, there would be no option to get him back most likely," said Doyle. "Benfica would say he's gone on assignment and he's super-healthy and ready to go."
Dawkins was also a difference maker for the Earthquakes when he was healthy, and taking the gamble to bring him back for a second season paid off immensely. In the case of Djalo, the dilemma is a familiar one, and Doyle still must balance the risk with the reward.
No timetable has been presented as to when an agreement with Benfica needs to be made - confirmation of Dawkins' return stretched well into the 2012 preseason - but a healthy Djalo would have a huge impact on the 2015 season. And if a deal is completed, the Earthquakes will hope to catch lightning in a bottle once again.