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San Jose Earthquakes may enter 2017 MLS season without any new Designated Players

GM Jesse Fioranelli says to wait until summer for big-money signings

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes-Press Conference
Fioranelli lays out plans for player acquisition
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- For the tenth straight year since rejoining Major League Soccer in 2008, the San Jose Earthquakes opened their preseason camp full of confidence for a successful season ahead. But for the first time in that span, the Quakes have a new man in charge of getting the team assembled, and he had a lot to say about his strategy for building a roster that will try to halt a four-year streak of not making the postseason.

General manager Jesse Fioranelli, who assumed the job earlier this month, takes over a team that was lead since its 2007 rebirth by John Doyle. Fioranelli stated at his introductory press conference that he would reach out to coaches, players, and front office staff in an effort to build consensus on what direction to take the club in the coming months. In a media scrum just off to the side of the Quakes training field, with the players going through drills on the opening day of preseason, he detailed some of what’s to come.

“With regards to game identity, we have to take it one player at a time and make sure that we don’t get hassled into signings,” said Fioranelli. “We especially want to find the right fit, and make sure with the existing forces that we have, we want to make sure we engage them even more in the future, in the coming weeks, and when we go into the season. We will have objectives that each and every player will know and the team can align to.”

The Quakes GM made it clear that he didn’t want to give away too much publicly when it came to ongoing negotiations and player signings, but he did reveal some of the bigger-picture plans the team is pursuing both in the short and long terms.

“We will be well prepared going into the new season,” said Fioranelli. “In the next 10 to 14 days, there will probably be some news.”

The pursuit for Club America striker Darwin Quintero appears all but over, as Fioranelli stated that everything that would be said on the matter had already been discussed. He did continue that himself, as well as head coach Dominic Kinnear and technical director Chris Leitch, were investigating other options for bringing in attack-minded players.

One potential addition is Dutch forward Danny Hoesen, who it was reported earlier in the day by Hans Nijland, general director of his current club FC Goningen, had agreed to a one-year loan deal with the Earthquakes with an option to buy his contract at the end of the MLS season.

“I didn’t read it yet,” Fioranelli said of the report. “I didn’t hear it yet, but if he said so, he has a lot of credibility and he has a fantastic team. I can’t comment on it yet because it is not official yet, but I expect in the next 7 to 10 days there will be some news, and I look forward to surprising many people.”

Fioranelli confirmed that any new signing would not be a Designated Player, for Hoesen or for any other player that San Jose is targeting to bring in ahead of the start of the regular season.

“That is intentionally and purposely the case,” clarified Fioranelli. “The winter transfer period produces a limited amount of good opportunities and the club in the position it is right now believes that in the summer there will be more options where we can strike a deal that gives us not only more support on the field but also, from a long term perspective, will want to commit to the San Jose Earthquakes.”

Going into the 2016 regular season, the Quakes had the league-maximum three Designated Players on their roster — Innocent Emeghara, Matias Perez Garcia, and Simon Dawkins — as well as former DP Chris Wondolowski, who would have counted as a DP had his contract not been bought down below the salary threshold using General Allocation Money. Currently, Wondolowski and Dawkins have DP-level salaries, so the Earthquakes count two DPs on their 2017 roster, but either or both might be bought down to potentially free up available DP slots for the summer transfer window that opens July 10.

“We will be deciding that right now,” said Fioranelli. “We are looking at all the options. With regards to new signings, we don’t want to head into any negotiations with Designated Players because there is going to be a second part of the season where we can attack after we have already sent a strong message in the first months of the season.”

With less than six weeks until the MLS season begins, the Quakes still have some work to do. Some rumored signings, like Albanian midfielder Jahmir Hyka, may arrive before the March 4 opening game, but others, including Hyka, could be added to the roster in July. Not starting the season with any new DPs certainly seems a gamble for San Jose, but Fioranelli has set his vision beyond immediate results, and he’ll hope the Quakes can get off to a strong start to the season without such big-money players.

“For right now, I can tell you that we have been working in the background the last months already,” said Fioranelli, “and I feel very confident about having the right signings and the right players in the right place.”