Simon Dawkins arrived back in San Jose ahead of last season with much fanfare and a Designated Player contract. A key contributor to the Earthquakes 2012 Supporters’ Shield squad and a favorite of supporters back at Buck Shaw Stadium, the midfielder was expected to transform an offense that had struggled in recent years. Unfortunately, 2016 didn’t go exactly as planned.
The San Jose Earthquakes scored only 32 goals in 34 league matches — the lowest goals against average in MLS — and they didn’t look all that entertaining in the process. The slump cost long-time general manager John Doyle his job in August, and a fourth straight season without a trip to the MLS Cup playoffs was the result.
For his part, Dawkins showed flashes of brilliance and spells of anonymity, finishing 2016 with 5 goals and 2 assists in 29 appearances. The midfielder finished second to Chris Wondolowski in the Quakes scoring chart, two goals ahead of forward Quincy Amarikwa, but tied for fifth in assists with a raft of teammates. His DP contract status demanded more, and Dawkins hopes 2017 can be better.
“We need to be more positive with our play,” Dawkins told Center Line Soccer this week. “We had a lot of possession last year, but we didn’t really take our chances. If we can be even more positive than we were last season, we will create even more chances and score more goals.”
The Jamaican international, via his home country of England, dealt with niggling injuries for parts of last season, so when the Earthquakes were eliminated from playoff contention in October, he made the decision to shut things down and let his body rest. He was a no-show for the beginning of the team’s preseason camp — he started with off-field workouts initially — but his plan all along was to integrate himself back into on-field practices as the regular season approached.
“As of right now, my aim is to get back fit,” said Dawkins as an update to his status. “I’ll set my personal goals once the first league game comes, but for me, obviously, being out for the whole off-season when I couldn’t do anything kept me from getting involved with football.”
Dawkins doesn’t use speed as his primary weapon; instead, he is more a midfielder that uses possession to put defenders off balance, putting more strain on his legs and knees. The time off allowed him to heal, and his goal moving forward is to build up his strength and stamina.
“I feel a lot better now,” Dawkins said. “It was a slow start, obviously, not having my fitness back, but now I am feeling a lot better.”
As he has progressed fitness-wise, Dawkins has also taken more of a role in team scrimmages. By last week, he was cleared to participate in the Earthquakes preseason games, making his first appearance of 2017 against the San Francisco Deltas of the NASL, though his time on the field is still being managed carefully.
“I’ve been training, and I played in my second game of the preseason this week, so it’s going to be up to the manager to decide if I am fit enough.”
Dawkins is targeting Saturday’s game against Sacramento Republic FC at Avaya Stadium — the Earthquakes final scheduled preseason game — for his first starting assignment, and he hopes it can serve as a dress rehearsal for a place in the line-up the following week in San Jose’s season opener against the Montreal Impact. He is realistic about his fitness, but he is confident that his progress is going as planned.
“I do have a little bit more time to get fitter,” Dawkins said. “Whether it is 60 minutes or more, I am looking to contribute as soon as I can.”
For a team that will desperately need his offensive contributions this season, those words are music to the ears.