When he took over the general manager role for the San Jose Earthquakes in January of 2017, Jesse Fioranelli asked for patience as he digested input from stakeholders within and outside the club. He would be a sponge to start the year, but he didn’t wait long to begin implementing his own ideas.
Fioranelli brought in new blood to the technical team, especially with the hire of Bruno Costa as head of scouting and Alex Covelo as director of methodology. Both men had experience with player evaluation outside North America, like Fioranelli himself, and the hires marked a seismic shift from the previous GM John Doyle’s approach to building a team.
Technical director Chris Leitch, who quickly bonded with Fioranelli and formed a potent duo in understanding the nuances of MLS roster development, provided a bridge to the current player pool. And when Fioranelli decided the future direction of the club did not include long-time head coach Dominic Kinnear, he installed Leitch in that role to finish out the season. The Earthquakes, despite the coaching disruption, qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
During the off-season, Fioranelli’s first fully in charge, he promised to continue on his four-year plan for the team, shedding some players he deemed surplus and hiring a new coach, one without any MLS experience, in Sweden’s Mikael Stahre. Leitch and Covelo, who had served as an assistant coach over the second half of the 2017 season, returned to their technical roles.
And just like that, one year on from his hiring, Fioranelli was in full control of the team.
With so much of the behind-the-scenes makeover complete, the GM turned his full attention to the evolving player roster. Imports like Magnus Eriksson, Joel Qwiberg, and Yeferson Quintana were brought in, potentially as season opener starters. Returnees Anibal Godoy and Danny Hoesen were inked to new contracts. Add to the internationals a stable of domestics signed as Homegrowns or from USL affiliate Reno 1868 FC, and the Quakes roster entering preseason has plenty of new faces.
All told, the Earthquakes have 26 players under contract, leaving room for up to four more signings. San Jose recently drafted four players through the 2018 MLS SuperDraft that will be fighting to gain one of those empty slots. It is expected that the competition to impress Stahre and his coaching staff will be intense during preseason camp.
But, on the surface, there are some issues with the Quakes roster as it currently stands. San Jose has 11 players that count as Internationals — 3 more than MLS rules allowed last season — and 4 players considered Designated Players — one more than the league limit. Fioranelli and Leitch have until the end of February to clear up these discrepancies, something the GM believes is already on the path to being worked out.
“There is a combination of several thoughts that we have,” said Fioranelli. “I can tell you that we addressed this at the end of last year, and I am happy where we stand right now regarding the entire roster structure, including International Slots, the composition of the balance inside the roster between older and younger players, American players, Homegrown players, International players. From a compliance standpoint, this is something that we have set before and we are optimistic about.”
While the roster rules for MLS have not yet been made publicly available, it is certain that technical teams have been moving forward with a roster building strategy that takes into account any limitations. If the number of International Player slots allocated to each team stays at 8, the Quakes could conduct trades with other teams to acquire additional slots. Alternatively, and more likely, is the conversion of some Internationals to domestic designations through the completion of the green card system.
As for the extra DP situation, the Earthquakes can use Allocation money — most likely General Allocation Money — to buy down one of the four current contracts to a level below the DP threshold. In 2016, San Jose used the same mechanism to make room on the roster for new DP Simon Dawkins by reducing Chris Wondolowski’s salary below the DP budget charge.
“That is definitely a possibility,” said Fioranelli, “but we only have to announce it prior to the compliance date March 1 or at the end of February.”
In terms of the current roster make-up, the Earthquakes seem to have coverage at every position. There are still big question marks surrounding the defense, where Quintana and Harold Cummings — neither of which has played an MLS game — could enter the season as the starting center backs. The defensive unit was a weakness at times last season, especially on the road, but Fioranelli feels that the crew he has assembled will be up to the challenge when league play begins on March 3.
“I can tell you that as it stands right now,” said Fioranelli, “we are very confident with the structure of the roster in all its facets and all its aspects as well.”
San Jose Earthquakes 2018 MLS roster
Goalkeeper (3): Matt Bersano, JT Marcinkowski (HG), Andrew Tarbell.
Defender (9): Francois Affolter (INT’L), Jacob Akanyirige (HG), Harold Cummings (INT’L), Florian Jungwirth (INT’L), Nick Lima (HG), Paul Marie (UD), Jimmy Ockford, Yeferson Quintana (INT’L), Joel Qwiberg (INT’L).
Midfielder (13): Eric Calvillo, Fatai Alashe, Simon Dawkins (DP, INT’L), Magnus Eriksson (DP, INT’L), Luis Felipe, Anibal Godoy (INT’L), Jahmir Hyka (INT’L), Kevin Partida (UD), Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili (DP, INT’L), Shea Salinas, Tommy Thompson (HG), Chris Wehan, Jackson Yueill (GA)
Forward (5): Quincy Amarikwa, Danny Hoesen (INT’L), Daniel Musovski (UD), Mohamed Thiaw (UD), Chris Wondolowski (DP)
(HG) = Homegrown Player Signing, (GA) = Generation Adidas, (INT’L) = International Player, (DP) = Designated Player, (UD) = unsigned MLS SuperDraft pick