A summer tradition in MLS is the arrival of a slew of big name players from around the world to bolster the rosters of teams hoping to make a push in the MLS Cup playoff race. New York Red Bulls with Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry in recent years; LA Galaxy with Robbie Keane as well -- Designated Player signings have often changed the fortunes of clubs looking to gain an edge in a league famous for its competitive parity.
In San Jose, the signings in recent years have been more muted than in other markets, but they have still given the Earthquakes a fighting chance to make the postseason. From Darren Huckerby and Francsico Lima in 2008 to Clarence Goodson and Jordan Stewart last year, the Quakes have brought aboard solid players that have made contributions without breaking the bank.
And so this season, with the Earthquakes in last place in the Western Conference as the window opens, what new signings might general manager John Doyle and head coach Mark Watson have in mind to bring in to save the day?
"We are always looking to add to the squad and get better," said Watson on Tuesday, the first day MLS allowed for summer transfers. "It is a constant process."
The process is one he and Doyle have stood by since before the season began, and one that is purposely short on details so as to not tip their plans and risk poisoning any ongoing negotiations. Unlike the very public wooing of players as upstart Orlando City is doing ahead of its first MLS season, the Quakes have historically kept out of the headlines when it comes to transfer rumors. Instead, Watson is focused on getting something out of the roster he does have, before it is too late for the last place Earthquakes.
"We're getting healthier and the squads getting larger due to guys getting back from the World Cup," said Watson, "so that's something we are happy about. You want all your players available. You want competition for places. The team is getting healthy and complete at the right time."
Two weeks ago, rather quietly, the team cut three players from the roster, including former first round draft pick Sam Garza, which fueled speculation that the Earthquakes were making room for a bevy of summer signings. Perhaps that will come to pass, but for the short term, Watson will have to make do with his current squad as the team tries to break a three game losing streak when it faces DC United Friday night.
Chris Wondolowski, an important "addition" for a team that has scored only 15 goals in 15 games, is back in the mix after serving with the U.S. men's national team in Brazil. Victor Bernardez is slated to start as well, bolstering a defensive line that has been stellar no matter which four players get the call from Watson. And in the midfield, the Earthquakes look set to welcome back Atiba Harris into the line-up following his recovery from injury, likely positioning the team's best aerial threat on one of the two wings.
The news is not as rosy for injured stars Shea Salinas and Clarence Goodson. While Watson did say that the two were still on track with their recoveries, their availability for the DC United contest was not a certainty.
"They are both making progress," said Watson. "We hope they are both ready for Friday. That is our focus right now."
But even if Salinas and Goodson were able to play, the team needs a solid effort against the Eastern Conference surprise team to keep its own season alive. Player selection is a detail on Watson's to-do list, but the main objective when facing DCU is clear.
"Simply, we need three points," said Watson. "We know they are a good team and are completely revamped from last year. We know the quality that they have, they are at the top of the East right now, so we know it will be a tough task. Our guys will come out very motivated to get the three points."
A homestand that has seen the Quakes slump to successive 1-0 losses, following an identical result at Toronto before the World Cup break that stretches the winless streak to three, must end with a victory. There is no speculation in that.