2015 was a transformative year for the San Jose Earthquakes, so we reached out to team president Dave Kaval to get his insights on matters both on and off the field. Kaval spoke on a number of subjects -- so many, in fact, that we have divided the conversation into three points.
Today's segment will focus on the team, its performance, and the future direction club leadership plans to take ahead of the start of the 2016 season.
The second part of the conversation goes into more depth on the Earthquakes youth academy and some of the developments made in that area.
Lastly, we discuss with Kaval the first season of soccer at Avaya Stadium, as well as the strategy the club is using to secure a jersey sponsor before the start of the new season.
Above all, Kaval, who is a constant presence at Earthquakes events and a strong proponent of the soccer in the Bay Area, is the face of the franchise, and his leadership since assuming the role of team president in October of 2010 has been instrumental in taking the club to where it is today. New branding, new stadium, new youth academy, new (old) head coach -- all actions that have kept the Quakes on pace with the rest of a growing MLS and give promise in 2016 for a team has seen more seasons end with playoffs since it returned to the league in 2008.
Center Line Soccer: I recognize how busy you are, but I know how much supporters are looking at an off-season in which there are many questions that need answers.
Dave Kaval: "I wanted to spend some time and visit and talk about the club."
CLS: I really appreciate it, and thank you for making yourself available.
DK: "It's all good, and there is a lot to discuss. We're attacking the off-season with a lot of gusto right now, coming up with a strategy to sign some additional players to make us even better and to build off of we were able to do last season."
CLS: I wanted to touch on that. In terms of expectations as you saw them leading into last season for the on-the-field performance, though the team failed to make the playoffs, with one year completed with Dominic Kinnear back in the fold, how do you plan to build off of the results leading into 2016?
DK: "First off, we have to analyze what worked well this last season, and I think there are a couple things that stand out. Yes, we are disappointed that we did not make the playoffs, especially because it was so close, and it came right down to the end. Just a couple games, a couple things here and there -- Montreal and Philadelphia at home come to mind -- if we could have gotten those, we'd probably have been playing [in the MLS Cup playoffs]. There's a frustration in that, but it also gives you motivation to enhance the parts of the team that were lacking.
"What we saw that worked very, very well last season was getting younger. Instead of a bunch of 31 to 33 year olds, we brought in a lot of guys like [Anibal] Godoy and [Marc] Pelosi and [Fatai] Alashe, as well as promoting David Bingham -- all are under 25 and represent a great core group of players. And I'd add [Quincy] Amarikwa to that group too. It is a core group of strong players that we plan to build around for a good three to five year run.
"I am fully confident that we can compete for MLS Cup this year and beyond." -- Dave Kaval
"We didn't have that a year prior when we only won six games. So to win 13 games while retooling that way, and dealing with international call-ups and injuries, losing your brand new and highest paid designated player [Innocent] early on in the season, it is a real credit to Dominic and the coaching staff as to what they were able to do and the tactics they were able to deploy to get 47 points under those conditions. If we solidify some of the other pieces, add two or three more attacking players, and get deeper on the bench, I am fully confident that we can compete for MLS Cup this year and beyond."
CLS: Getting younger at key positions certainly helped, but the exception seems to be along the defensive back line. We had a chance to talk to Clarence Goodson, who wants to remain in San Jose, but he is 33 years old. Victor Bernardez is 33, Jordan Stewart, if he comes back, is another at 33, and Marvel Wynne is above 30 as well. Those guys have all expressed an interest in coming back next season. Do you look at the defense as a place that might experience some turnover, or is the feeling these guys have more left in the tank?
DK: "We have a great back line. I think we want to develop some great young players in that area that can be cover and be brought forward and brought along by the veterans. The first priority this off-season is to acquire two or three attacking players, but secondly is to get stronger in the back with a good, young center back and folks that can slot into those roles. So in three years when some of the older players may be retiring or moving on, then we can slot that younger person in.
"That is certainly a priority, and it is an important thing when you are looking beyond one season. The thing is, with my role or with [general manager] John Doyle or [technical director] Chris Leitch, we are looking over multiple years in terms of how we want to piece our roster together. Still, you are certainly correct to highlight that as an area we need to address this off-season."
CLS: In getting younger and finding guys you can develop, I expect you will look to the MLS SuperDraft (January 14, San Jose selects eighth overall) primarily as an immediate source?
DK: "Well, when we look at player acquisition, this is the most systematic we have been about it. We have a full-time technical director in Chris who wakes up every day focused on how we acquire players through every possible channel, whether that is our academy, the SuperDraft, the Re-Entry Draft, the Waiver Draft, trades within the league, free agency, or, the holy grail, international player signings. Going out and finding a club, like the one in Budapest that had Anibal Godoy, buying his contract, and having him join our team -- we need to be more aggressive in finding players like that. That was a very successful way to do it.
"But we also want to be smart about possible trades within the league, like how we got Quincy. Or working with the allocation rankings to get a player like Marc Pelosi. You need to look at all the different avenues available to you to fill roster spots with the right talent.
"Having the additional resources to organize that effort so that Dominic, John, Chris, and all the coaches can be out there meeting players, scouting players, is key. And not just for a month or more -- we have guys that we have been scouting for a year or two. They may not be players we needed at the time we started scouting them, but now we have seen them and met them, we understand how much they cost, and we've worked with their agents. It's an ongoing process -- a living process -- as opposed to simply waking up and deciding to scout a player for a month and then putting our heads back down again. It doesn't work that way, and in the past we didn't have as many resources to allow us to invest the time and effort into identifying players on a year-round basis.
"We have plans to hire a scouting coordinator this off-season as well, someone who can help manage that process, so I'm very excited about the new resources and how they can make us more effective in player acquisition."
Click here for part two of our conversation with Kaval, where we will focus on the Earthquakes Academy.