When technical director Chris Leitch was elevated to head coach of the San Jose Earthquakes in June, replacing the fired Dominic Kinnear, the 38-year-old former MLS defender assumed the title without the “interim” label that often comes with a midseason appointment. General manager Jesse Fioranelli, who engineered the change, stated at the time that Leitch had his full support and deserved the job on a permanent basis.
“Chris Leitch is not just a bridge. He is part of the foundation of this club,” said Fioranelli back in June. “[W]e did not want someone to come from abroad and take over this team, but we wanted someone that cares, someone that knows the players, someone that knows the team, to take on this important next chapter.” LINK
Since taking over for Kinnear, Leitch has guided the Earthquakes to the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup and brought the team to the brink of postseason qualification. If San Jose wins its season finale against Minnesota United on Sunday at Avaya Stadium, it will enter the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time since its 2012 Supporters’ Shield winning campaign.
So it came as some surprise this week that Leitch’s future as head coach of the Earthquakes would be in any doubt. A report on MLSsoccer.com stated that Leitch is expected to continue in that role for the 2018 MLS season, citing multiple sources. The existence of the report itself raised eyebrows within the Quakes organization, as people there wondered why Leitch’s position with the club was even in doubt. No one was more bemused by the story than the man himself.
“In relation to that article, I don’t understand when it says ‘multiple sources” confirm I may be the coach,” said Leitch. “I am very perplexed about how that story would be written and how it came off.”
The Quakes coach recognizes that the question could be asked of anyone in the organization, from the training staff to the players, but he wanted to put to rest any speculation about his future and turn attention to the task at hand: making the playoffs.
“As far as will I be the coach next season? I don’t know that answer right now,” said Leitch. “I am literally looking at only Minnesota right now and this group of guys in the locker room, and focusing on doing anything and everything I possibly can to help us reach one of this team’s goals, which is to make the postseason. That is one-hundred percent where my myopic focus rests and will rest until we get the result we need against Minnesota. And after that, the next one, and after that, the next one, and when the dust settles and it’s done, then we’ll sort all the other stuff out.”
Should the Earthquakes fail to make the postseason, there will certainly be questions asked about whether he should be the head coach next season. San Jose actually had a slightly better points-per-game mark with Kinnear in charge over the first half of the season, 1.35 ppg in 17 games, than Leitch has so far in 16 games in charge. If the Quakes earn a win against Minnesota, the two coaches would finish with identical ppg marks this season.
Regardless of the result in the season finale, star forward Chris Wondolowski is not expecting a coaching change in the offseason. The Quakes captain was very emotional during the coaching transition back in June, having been a huge supporter of Kinnear through the years, but he has been impressed with the manner by which Leitch has guided the team since taking over, and he believes he deserves to continue as head coach in 2018.
“Yeah, absolutely. I’m definitely looking forward to having him back,” said Wondolowski. “He’s done a great job at a time when he was thrown into a tumultuous situation. The locker room, just the way everything happened, was not a settled or unified place. It was definitely tough, and he has done a great job of righting the ship and deciding how we want to play and continue going forward.”