With the March 1 MLS roster compliance date just around the corner, the San Jose Earthquakes announced on Saturday that they had waived third-year midfielder JJ Koval.
"It was a numbers game," said head coach Dominic Kinnear. "He took it as graciously as I've ever seen, which made me feel even worse. He needs space to grow, and he wasn't going to get that here."
Koval, a four-year starter at Stanford University, signed with the Quakes in 2014 after he was selected in the first round, ninth overall, in the MLS SuperDraft. The 23-year-old made 39 appearances for the club over two seasons, including 16 starts. He usually played as a central midfielder, but he also saw time at center back, a position he was expected to assume as his career moved forward.
While he finishes his Earthquakes shift without a goal or assist, Koval will be remembered for his heroic performance in the second leg of the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg draw against Toluca, in which the rookie played all 120 minutes of the match on defense. The Earthquakes lost that tie on penalty kicks, but the display from Koval instantly made him a fan favorite.
With the Earthquakes making a number of moves to bolster their midfield ranks last season and this off-season, including the addition of rookies Fatai Alashe and Marc Pelosi last year and Simon Dawkins and Alberto Quintero this year, Koval slipped further down the depth chart. Waiving the third-year pro gives the Quakes some wriggle room on their roster, which, as of Saturday, was down to 27 players under contract. League rules stipulate that teams can carry only 28 players.
"It was a tough move to make, because I have a lot of respect for JJ," said Kinnear. "He is a wonderful person, and I do wish him well. It was a numbers game, and you don't want to prevent a guy from advancing in their career just to keep them around. He'll land on his feet somewhere, he'll play soccer if he wants to, and he'll be fine."
Koval's departure opens up space on the roster for one of the three draft pick hopefuls still in preseason camp: midfielder Tyler Thompson, brother of current midfielder Tommy Thompson, defender Kip Colvey, and midfielder Patrick Hodan. Of the three, Colvey seems the most likely candidate to sign a rookie contract and replace Koval on the roster.
If Koval is not picked up by another MLS team and he chooses to continue his professional soccer career, Sacramento Republic FC of the USL could be a logically landing spot for the Westlake Village native. Over the past two seasons, Koval has played with Sacramento on loan as part of the team's affiliation partnership with the Earthquakes.