Just over a month ago, hours before hoards of kids would take to their local neighborhoods in search of Halloween treats, John Doyle sat himself down at his new desk in his new office adjacent to the San Jose Earthquakes new stadium. The club's general manager would soon pick up the phone and begin an end-of-season call with reporters that would last well over the prescribed 30 minute time limit.
Readying himself for the conversation - it was a far cry from the first call he made back when principal owner Lew Wolff handed him the reins to the club in 2007, a time at which his office contained nothing but a table and phone - Doyle reflected on a season that was arguably the worst in franchise history. Much like those days, when the freshly reminted Earthquakes returned to MLS, the team had nowhere to go but up.
"Obviously, the 2014 season was a huge disappointment," said Doyle. "Everybody knows that. It was very difficult."
Any last vestiges to the 2012 Supporters' Shield winning season were gone. The Quakes had ended the 2014 season on a club-record 15-game winless streak - a sour finish that won't be forgotten until at the earliest March of next year, the start of the 2015 season. Head coach Mark Watson had been replaced with Dominic Kinnear, and Doyle hinted that the player roster would get a significant makeover as well.
"Any time that you don't have a successful season, there's going to be some changes," said Doyle. "Obviously, there will be turnover, there's turnover every year, and with a season that didn't go too well, there's definitely going to be some turnover, but I wouldn't say its going to be the whole team turned over, that's for sure. New coach comes in, a coach with a lot of experience and a lot of success; he's going to make changes."
Doyle added that he expected to send out notices to players "in three weeks" whether their options had been picked up for next season. For those players out of contract and those whose options were declined that the team might want back at a lower salary figure, the notices would mark the first step in negotiating new deals for 2015. Doyle's office printer was definitely going to be busy in November.
Three weeks have nearly become five, and the Earthquakes have yet to announce any updates on their roster. Far from disappointing, it is encouraging that Doyle and Kinnear are taking their time evaluating the roster and planning for next season. A 6-16-12 season certainly calls for changes, but those changes shouldn't be made rashly, a point that Doyle was clear to acknowledge.
"I heard this from a coach that I have a lot of respect for," said Doyle. "He said, ‘Good players don't all of sudden become bad.' I think we have a lot of good players. I think maybe in 2012 we had a career year for a lot of guys. In 2014 we had career bad years for a lot of guys. There are a lot of reasons why, but I think we have some good players, and I think we have some committed players."
Doyle continued that in end-of-season meetings he had with the players following the team's 1-0 loss at now-defunct Chivas USA, everyone stated that he wanted to play in San Jose. That included such locks to return as Chris Wondolowski and Matias Perez Garcia, the Quakes' two Designated Players. But it also included players on options like Sam Cronin and Jason Hernandez, as well as those who are out of contract like Steven Lenhart, Atiba Harris, and Jon Busch.
"Every player wants to be here," said Doyle, "so that's a good thing."
From Doyle's second-floor office in the Earthquakes new headquarters in the shadow of the stadium's north grandstand, the team's pristine training field is but an errant Victor Bernardez shot on goal away, and through much of November, it was the gathering place for those players hopeful of the chance to keep wearing the Blue and Black in 2015. Kinnear, only days on the job when Doyle first discussed the roster back on October 31, kept watch of the proceedings as he further focused his attention on the Quakes rebuilding project.
"We've been in together for four days solid and just going through the roster, going through the staff, going through all the contracts, going through the salary budget, and hearing out whose options we're going to pick up, whose options we're not going to pick up," said Doyle. "It was very refreshing to sit in the meeting and see his grasp of knowledge of MLS and salary budgets and his straightforward approach to the players."
What won't be straightforward is the Earthquakes path to the playoffs in 2015, and the first moves to remake the roster will set the stage for new additions in the coming months. Who underperformed? Who was limited by injuries? Who is capable of returning to his 2012 form? None of these is an easy question to answer.
"It was just one of those years, and things just didn't go well," said Doyle. "We have some talented players, that's for sure."
Talented, committed to playing in San Jose, eager to prove 2014 was the exception and not the rule - Earthquakes of the present will soon learn if they are to be Earthquakes of the future.