The MLS preseason seems to get shorter with every passing year, and this go-around was no different. The San Jose Earthquakes first took the field in 2017 less than six weeks ago, and only in the most recent days have they had the entirety of their roster together.
No worries, says head coach Dominic Kinnear, who after leading the team through a series of drills aimed at having the Quakes ready for their season opener this Saturday against the Montreal Impact, kick off at 6:45 p.m. at Avaya Stadium, looked pleased with the progress his squad has made in such a short period of time. though he acknowledged that there is still work to do.
“We are still assessing it because guys have only been here altogether for a week or two,” Kinnear told a small group of reporters at the Earthquakes training center on Thursday. “Overall, with the personnel with have, I’m excited about it.”
New general manager Jesse Fioranelli also had a pep to his step as he exited the facility after watching the team put in a 2+ hour training session. A very busy man since assuming the GM role just prior to the MLS SuperDraft, Fioranelli is even more encouraged by the confidence he sees in the players actions and attitudes.
“They can feel it,” said Fioranelli. “They are taking the initiative without any orders taken from anyone. They’re excited, and there is the right amount of competition. The best thing is if they are all engaged. We only have to help them get into that position, structure it in a way to allow it to happen.”
The optimism that is certainly flowing in each of the 22 MLS cities ahead of the league’s 22nd season can often seem like hyperbole. After all, everyone in both the Western and Eastern Conference is currently tied for first place. Pundits, polls and predictions have the Quakes finishing the season out of the playoffs — it would be the fifth straight year on the outside looking in at the postseason if that happens — with some seeing San Jose as 10th in the West at best.
“If I cared what people predicted and thought, especially about myself, I wouldn’t have made it out of high school soccer,” quipped team captain Chris Wondolowski. The Quakes all-time leading scorer made it very clear that he saw bigger things for the Earthquakes this season.
“We are finding each other on the same page,” continued Wondolowski, “and I’m liking the cohesion we are continuing to build. It’s exciting. Defensively we are very sound, and offensively we have an element of surprise, and also some class, some talent, that guys can bring, that next-level stuff.”
Building team chemistry will be a priority item for the Quakes to start the season, but Kinnear, who was pleased with his team’s comprehensive 4-1 victory over the Sacramento Republic FC in San Jose’s final preseason friendly, noted some other important to-dos ahead of the season opener against the Impact.
“One of those is fitness. We want to fine tune that I expect we will get fitter as the year goes on,” said Kinnear. “More attention to set-pieces as well. We have spent a lot of time in the coach's’ office getting geared up for Saturday with specific details we want to push to the players, so it’s been pretty good.”
The Quakes spent over an hour focused on set-pieces during Thursday’s training session, with Kinnear in the middle of the mix directing traffic and barking orders. San Jose did not score at all from a free kick in 2016, and scoring opportunities on corner kicks were few and far between. Making any improvement in this area would certainly boost the Earthquakes prospects in 2017.
The 19 outfield players currently available for selection this Saturday were active throughout the training session, as assistant coach John Spencer put them through their paces in a series of full-field scenarios. Defender Kip Colvey, who has been playing with the Quakes USL affiliate Reno 1868 FC this week is not expected to be part of Kinnear’s plans against the Impact, and the coach also lamented that there are still guys getting healthy.
“It’s nice, but there are still some guys that are injured,” said Kinnear. “Marc Pelosi is still not out here. Harold Cummings is jogging around the field. It’s nice having all the guys under one roof, but we still have those guys that are not yet on the field. For the most part, it’s the potential we have right now with the squad and the numbers we have and the roster we are putting together.”
Add Quincy Amarikwa to the list of rehabbing players, while defender Marvell Wynne continues to sit out with a heart issue that has prevented his participation in any form of training. Pelosi, who was injured in 2015 and underwent season-ending surgery, did not play at all in 2016. Kinnear had no update on the timetable for the former Liverpool youth player’s return to action.
“Nope,” Kinnear said with a shrug. “You’ll see him when you see him.”