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A Roadmap to Avoid #FourMoreYears

The San Jose Earthquakes, who have now spent four consecutive seasons East of the MLS Cup Playoffs Eden, need to do some soul-searching in their efforts to turn around the fortunes of their historic franchise. Colin Etnire offers a few places to start:

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It's been ugly being a Quakes fan over the last four years, and with the glorious exception of 2012, wasn't much better than that since the franchise (temporarily) departed after the 2005 season. The team is in need of some major repairs to fix the results on the field and the unrest in the stands, and in my two years of covering and analyzing the club, I have a few opinions on how they might do so.

One major impediment is the fact that MLS, unlike the NBA, doesn't provide major assets to its worst teams in order to help them turn the ship around. The SuperDraft simply isn't where the most valuable players are acquired. Moreover, in 2017, the two expansion teams will pick in front of the worst existing teams anyway, meaning the Quakes will probably pick somewhere around #5, a slot that traditionally contains a useful (but not franchise-altering) player. They'll simply need to do an excellent job this offseason, and have an eye toward 2018 and beyond, not just the coming year.

Here are some quick, bullet-point-style thoughts of things to do before next season starts:

  • In the off-season, make repairing the relationships with supporters groups (and season ticket holders) a major priority
  • If Dominic Kinnear still has healthy working relationships with the organization, keep him. And let him know that if he doesn’t have the team on a playoff track by midseason, or in the playoffs at season's end, he’s gone.
  • Feel out the market for David Bingham in Europe. He’s your most valuable transfer asset, but bad teams don’t gain much with a good keeper. This is pretty much the only move the team can make to "rebuild."
  • Invest in some younger players whose best soccer might come after 2017, not before it. They provide depth immediately, excitement for fans, and in the long run, form the foundation of successful teams.
  • Sign Alberto Quintero permanently
  • Pick up Henok Goitom’s option, if it’s cheap
  • Re-sign Anibal Godoy, who is in the last year of his contract
  • If Clay Goodson is healthy enough to play at a high level, extend him at a lower rate than he was on. If he isn’t, use the huge cap space his retirement would provide to sign a high-level CB to pair with Victor Bernardez.
  • Speaking of Bernardez, I believe his contract is up so signing him to a short, reasonable extension is another thing.
  • Either decline Innocent’s option (if it’s non-guaranteed), or bite the bullet and pay him a buy-out to get him off the books
  • Sign a creative attacking midfielder at a salary comparable to Innocent’s
  • Conduct a search for a new GM as if the spot were completely open, and if no options with significantly more experience than Chris Leitch materialize, give him the title and back him up with a more robust scouting, analytics, and technical staff. That includes a bit more attention to the academy, by either promoting Holocher to director or hiring someone to oversee it, and get a new coach for the younger squads
  • Devise one-striker systems for both when Wondo is on the field and when he isn’t
  • Leave Chad Barrett, Marvell Wynne, Quincy Amarikwa, Kip Colvey, Shea Salinas, Shaun Francis, Mark Sherrod, Andres Imperiale, and Jordan Stewart unprotected (or decline their options).
  • Protect Bingham, Wondo, Dawkins, Quintero, Godoy, Cato, Silva, Bernardez, Sarkodie, Ceren, and Alashe, with Tarbell and Thompson getting automatic protection. Pelosi and Goitom are complicated pending other factors (injury and contract, respectively), but it’s easy to take names off of my list to provide space amongst the 11 protected (Sarkodie would be the first, then Silva).
  • Specifically search for other options at striker and LB for depth (or starters, if such a player is available). Depth across the board is always necessary in MLS with such short rosters and such tight roster rules.
  • Decide Tommy Thompson's future. If he's got a future in San Jose, play him the remainder of this season and do everything in your power to put him in a position to succeed next year. Don't sign him to an extension until he proves he can play. If he doesn't, dispatch with him this offseason for as much as the market will bear. Letting him go after 4 ineffectual years for nothing in return is the worst possible outcome.
  • Sign Josh Morton and Nick Lima to homegrown deals, then loan them to Reno for the season. Lima may not be eligible for such a deal, but I know for a fact the FO will attempt to plead their case. With only one homegrown signing in their history, there are current youngsters who doubt their path to the first team.
  • If necessary, sign current academy players through that mechanism if it keeps them from going abroad.
  • Obviously, you have to nail the SuperDraft with that top pick, because it will be one of the few ways to get good young talent.
  • Change the culture of loyalty, and do your best to only negotiate contracts with options to give the team more control over a downturn in performance
This list is certainly incomplete. I typed it out in a few minutes between meetings. So consider it the beginning of the discussion, not the end.