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Tracking the Quakes Offseason

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Silly season is usually more tragicomic than thrilling for Quakes fans, but this one is anything but: four TAM players joined in a huge burst after the 2016 group was subjected to an unusually high level of turnover. I've tried to collect all the information and my thoughts about it in one place:

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Quakes have just signed four players at above the Designated Player (DP) threshold in a single week. Of course, none of them will count as DPs because of the bounty of Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) each team got, but it’s still a stunning spending spree from a franchise that has long been seen as passive in the transfer market, and one that badly needs a shot in the arm after years of futility.

That’s been just one phase in an off-season that also contained a huge number of cuts, the traditional series of MLS drafts, and a few other roster moves here and there, let alone the hiring of just the second GM the franchise has employed since its relaunch in 2008. I've done my best to record the general path of movement if you haven't been keeping up, or if it's simply been too hard to track. I'll start with the beginning of the off-season, where the club announced who was retained and released from its previous roster:

Released (9)

Returning (14)

Chad Barrett (ST)

Chris Wondolowski (ST, DP)

Marc Sherrod (ST)

Simon Dawkins (LW, DP)

Jordan Stewart (LB)

Quincy Amarikwa (ST)

Clarence Goodson (CB)

Victor Bernardez (CB)

Alberto Quintero (RM)

Anibal Godoy (CDM)

Leandro Barrera (LM)

Darwin Ceren (CDM)

Bryan Meredith (GK)

Shea Salinas (LM)

Steven Lenhart (ST)

David Bingham (GK)

Innocent Emeghara (ST)

Cordell Cato (RB/RM)

Shaun Francis (LB)

Fatai Alashe (CDM/CB)

Kip Colvey (LB)

Matheus Silva (CDM)

Andrew Tarbell (GK)

With just 14 players remaining on roster, one DP slot completely open, and $1.2 million in TAM to splash around, the club left new GM Jesse Fioranelli with about as blank of a slate as you'll ever see in major professional soccer. Below, I've broken down the phases of acquisition since then that have built the squad back up close to a full roster.

Re-signing Out-of-contract Quakes

Marc Pelosi (CM/LB), Tommy Thompson (CAM), Kofi Sarkodie (LB/RB), Marvell Wynne (CB/RB)

Neither the club nor fans were ever particularly worried about losing hold of any of these players, all of whom had negotiations underway prior to their release being announced, and in the case of all but Wynne, with whom the team had exclusive negotiating rights.

The decisions to retain them, however, are each interesting in their own right. Pelosi is young (22) and comes with an elite pedigree, but didn't even manage to put a full training session together in 2016. The team must've decided that his medical risk is low enough to justify whatever his new salary is. Thompson had one more year on his homegrown deal, which would've been exempt from the cap, but the team decided to lock him into a multi-year extension. Thompson struggled for playing time each of the past three years, but still possess a bit of the bright sparkle of a former elite prospect himself, and is a year younger than Pelosi. Wynne, although on the expensive side and in his 30s, was arguably the team's best defender last year, and keeps himself in good enough shape to expect too much physical decline. Sarkodie was a useful rotation fullback last year, and may be the only one in the group to have earned a pay rise rather than a haircut.

Early Signings

Nick Lima (RB) via the Homegrown Rule, Harold Cummings (CB) on a free transfer, Olmes Garcia (ST) through the re-entry draft

Lima signed just the second Homegrown deal in club history after four years at Cal. He's a converted former winger that is most natural on the right side of a defensive line, although he played left-back for the Burlingame Dragons and I could easily imagine him landing there as well. He's offensively-oriented yet sturdily-built and tough, with enough seasoning already that I don't think it'll take too long to reach the point where you'd be comfortable with him on an MLS field.

Cummings is a beast of an enforcer, just 25, with an incredible amount of international caps for Panama for his age. Not only do I like the look of him, but he came on a deal that didn't even require TAM to squeeze him on the roster. I love this pickup, and I suspect Quakes fans will love it to. He may not displace Bernardez this season, but a he'll remind fans of a slightly shorter version of him, and could easily take on the starting role in time.

Garcia still hasn't signed, actually, and Fioranelli suggested that he was more or less trialling for a roster spot throughout the pre-season. The Colombian is fast and tall, with a delightful bag of tricks up his sleeve and capable of jaw-dropping technical moments, but he's deeply inconsistent. From the club's perspective, it's great: if he wins them over with a strong pre-season, they just added an impactful forward with tons of experience as a super-sub. If he doesn't step up his game, they can cut him with no consequence.

SuperDraft

Jackson Yueill (CM, UCLA), Lindo Mfeka (CM, South Florida), Christian Thierjung (CAM, Cal Berkeley), Auden Schilder (GK, Washington)

Yueill quite simply fell into San Jose's lap. Just 19 years old, rated as a sure-fire top-five selection, heralded for his passing range and vision, he's a no-brainer on a Generation Adidas deal that doesn't even hit the cap. Where exactly he fits into the Quakes's crowded midfield, as a finesse player in a not-so-finesse system, is besides the point when you can use the sixth overall pick on someone of his talent at such a young age who can be quietly developed for a few years.

After him, the remaining players don't have guaranteed contracts and are therefore more or less on exclusive trials with the club. Mfeka was the breakout sleeper pick from the combine, and I could easily see him becoming a staple in Reno with some real MLS potential. Thierjung is a familiar face who I don't believe will make an MLS roster, but could definitely find a spot on Reno. I know very little about Schilder, who was taken on a flier in the last round after not even being invited to the combine, but goalkeeper coach Tim Hanley went so far as to take to Twitter to defend his scouting of the kid, evidently holding him in fairly high regard.

TAM Transfer Spending Spree

Marco Ureña (ST/RW) from Brondby, Danny Hoesen (ST) from FC Gronigen on a loan-to-buy deal, Florian Jungwirth (CDM/RB) from Darmstadt, Jahmir Hyka (LW/RW) from FC Luzern

What we know is that TAM was utilized on all four of these transactions, which indicates that their cap hits for 2017 would've been above the Designated Player threshold otherwise. What we don't know is literally anything else: how big their transfer fees were, how big the salaries are, how much TAM was utilized on each one, how exactly the loan-to-buy deal was structured, etc. We don't even know if the TAM was used on the players themselves or on one of the existing DPs, although my guess is that it wasn't.

Ureña, 26, led off the spree, but to me, he's the one of the four I'm least sold on. He's a sort of tweener between a striker and a wide man, with decent quickness and a fantastic work rate but unexceptional finishing or tricks and a fairly small frame. If he's up top, he'll be a hard-working "Defensive Forward" who will help win the ball back (either in the press or on defense) and use his technique to link up with a more scoring-oriented striker (Chris Wondolowski). If he's out wide, he'd provide some genuine width on the right, but I haven't seen enough of him in that role on tape to know if his service is good enough. Those familiar with his time playing professionally in Scandinavia weren't overwhelmed with his performances in fairly pedestrian leagues, and his goalscoring rate is anemic, but he's a seasoned Costa Rican international with a World Cup goal to his name. I'm waiting on both his role and his talent level to become more clear before I pass a strong judgement, although I'll admit I was surprised to hear it was a TAM deal.

Hoesen, also 26, cuts the mold of a prospect the Quakes never would've gotten even just a few years ago. Young, Dutch, technical, with some time spent playing meaningful games for legendary club Ajax: those guys simply didn't come to MLS. He's fairly tall (6'1") and quick, with a decent striking rate, but a bit too skinny of a frame to think of him as the prototypical "target man" that Dominic Kinnear might want. No matter, for me: I can imagine his technique, pace, and height providing an excellent partner to Wondo up top. I think he's both a slightly higher talent level than Ureña and a bit more clear of a fit within the team.

I'll admit I wasn't particularly familiar with Jungwirth, 28, but he seems to be well-regarded as a defensively-oriented player, and he comes off playing 35 matches in the last year and a half in Germany's elite Bundesliga, albeit for a fairly miserable team. He's probably most natural as a defensive midfielder, but he's played right-back, center-back, and left-back as well. For fans looking for a deep-lying offensive player, Jungwirth isn't it: he lacks the explosive athleticism or incisive technique for that, but he's rugged, smart, and savvy. In fact, he may have the highest talent level of any of San Jose's defensively-oriented players. The real question for me is where they see him fitting in. Defensive midfield would appear to be a log-jam, he's a bit slow to be a right-back, and a bit small to be a center-back. I trust that Fioranelli had a fairly intentional plan in mind, so assuming he puts Jungwirth in a position to succeed, I really like the signing.

My pick of the lot is Jahmir Hyka, however. He's diminutive, and I can't imagine him doing much of the defensive dirty work that Kinnear likes his wide men to do, but his technique is off the charts. Imagine Tommy Thompson, but already seasoned, having proven it at a much higher level, with more end product to boot. He's quick and extremely shifty, and the 28-year-old even got praised as "The Albanian Messi." He's mostly been a left winger, but there's a fair bit of tape on him playing from the right as well. He's the sort of creator who opens up space with his 1v1 dribbling ability rather than his passing vision, although he seems decent at that too. Imagine him as an upgrade on Alberto Quintero. Having dangerous wide men is extraordinarily important for a side like San Jose that likes two striker looks and struggles to create chances.

Where things stand now

With all the above transactions accounted for, that leaves 26 of 28 roster spots filled, 8 of 8 international spots (Matheus Silva appears to have acquired a green card), and 2 of 3 Designated Player spots. I don't have an exact number, but the roster appears to have gotten younger overall since last year despite the passage of time.

Fioranelli indicated he wanted to fill that third DP spot in the summer, and the only name floated so far is soon-to-be-out-of-contract Salomon Kalou, who, for me, would be a home run. I was originally apprehensive about the plan to delay, since so little else of the roster had been settled when it was announced, but I now feel much better about the strategy of waiting for the perfect player to fall into their lap rather than over-reaching in the notoriously-difficult winter market.

A concern for the Front Office is the constant churn of players throughout the season, which was tough in 2015 and catastrophic in 2016. Injuries, suspensions, and international absences are inevitable, and the number of CONCACAF internationals increased, making the latter situation even worse (although, thankfully, MLS will be taking a break for the Gold Cup). With (at least) Pelosi and Quincy Amarikwa still recovering from long-term injuries, a lot of the roster decisions have been made with an eye toward providing layers and layers of cover, according to my sources within the Front Office.

The strikers group looks solid, with four on roster already and a fifth on trial in Garcia. The situation out wide has sorted itself out quite a bit, with Dawkins, Hyka, Thompson, and Salinas all naturals there, and several more capable of stepping in as needed. Defensive midfield is incredibly well-stocked with options. Center-back has plenty of depth, but what has yet to be seen is whether or not a pairing can be found that plays as effectively as Bernardez-Goodson in 2015. There are plenty of options at full-back, but I think it's undoubtably the weakest position on the roster, with no clear starter on either side. If players step up in those roles role, and the overall team play improves, the production could be decent. But it's a question mark. Goalkeepers are set, with a top-drawer starter (Bingham) and an elite prospect (Tarbell) behind him, with plenty of options for the easily-replaced third spot.

As always, here's the link to the spreadsheet I personally use to keep track of roster details, utilizing extremely rough estimates for the sorts of cap hits these players will come with. Some will be cleared up in the spring when the Players' Union releases its salary survey, but use of TAM and GAM remains opaque.