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Quakes Questions: Domestics versus Internationals

Looking at the balance of domestic and international players on the Quakes roster

Danny Hoesen and Chris Wondolowski partner at forward for the San Jose Earthquakes
Lyndsay Radnedge | Center Line Soccer

“It was great to see Tommy Thompson, Fatai Alashe, and Chris Wondolowski scores goals for the San Jose Earthquakes against the LA Galaxy. All three have done so much for the team, yet only Wondo is going to start this season. Are the Quakes relying too much on all these International signings when they have some really good domestic players?” — James

First off, thanks for asking the first of what we hope are many #QuakesQuestions. I know when we spoke on Saturday, you had a lot more on your mind, but this question had me thinking long after our conversation. And it’s certainly not one that is unique to the Earthquakes — teams around the league, and around the world, always seem to face the same potential dilemma.

Indeed, all four goals on Saturday were scored by American players, but this shouldn’t come as a shock. Like I said then, these aren’t the first goals scored by that trio, and they won’t be the last. Wondolowski will be a starter on opening day, no doubt about it, and both Thompson and Alashe are going to be competing to get in the matchday 18 week after week. The latter two will get their chances.

The Earthquakes currently have 10 players on their official 26-man roster that take up what are called International Player spots, while MLS rules and regulations allow for only eight. GM Jesse Fioranelli has until the season opener on March 3 to be roster compliant, and he has said on more than one occasion this preseason that he’s got a plan to make it happen. Maybe one or more of those 10 players secures a green card, which frees up an International spot, or perhaps the Quakes trade for a spot from another MLS team in exchange for some GAM and/or TAM (each team is allotted eight spots per season, but they are tradeable). Whatever the course of action, it will get done.

More than a third of the roster will have started their professional careers overseas, developed their games within teams and cultures that have shaped their styles and abilities. They’ll bring that to San Jose, and they’ll make the team stronger for it. I’m not in any way saying the foreign players are better than domestic ones. Rather, many of the Quakes internationals bring a pedigree to MLS that will raise the competition level in training, pushing everyone to better.

Thompson, the Earthquakes first Homegrown Player signing, is talented, to be sure, but he only improves if he is pushed, and battling with Jahmir Hyka, Vako, Magnus Eriksson, and others for minutes benefits the entire team. #PlayYourKids is a popular sentiment on social media, but Thompson, Alashe, Jackson Yueill, etc. have to earn that privilege. MLS is not a development league, and fans in the stands are not paying to watch anonymous American youngsters trying to get noticed. Playing time is important, to be sure, and the Quakes should continue to find avenues for opportunities like they have with their USL affiliate Reno 1868 FC to identify and develop young talent. Succeed at that level — Chris Wehan, Jimmy Ockford, and Luis Felipe did last year — and earn your way onto an MLS roster.

The Quakes certainly have a more Euro feel since Fioranelli took over a year ago — including the majority of the coaching staff — and the jury is still out on whether that’s a good thing. Stocking up on internationals is no guarantee of success, just look at the Earthquakes past: For every Florian Jungwirth, there’s been a Pablo Pintos; for every Danny Hoesen, there’s been a Henok Goitom; for every Victor Bernardez, there’s been a Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi. Will Vako be a star, or will he be another Innocent? Again, time will tell.

Personally, I like the balance of domestics and internationals on the roster. I’d say that more effort could be made to improve the defense through the domestic ranks — Joel Qwiberg, Francois Affolter, and Yeferson Quintana all take up International spots that could equally be filled by more Ockford caliber players — but the additions to the offense — Danny Hoesen last year and Eriksson this season — are undeniably good selections.

Fioranelli, for the most part, is targeting internationals with international experience, many with their respective national teams. The Achilles heel of such a strategy is evident when many of those player are called up for their countries — the Quakes can be left a bit short-handed. Enter the domestics. Where was Anibal Godoy against the LA Galaxy on Saturday, the same midfielder that will likely feature for Panama in this summer’s World Cup? Sitting on the bench, replaced by Yueill, as head coach Mikael Stahre looked at how the young American fit in to the line-up. A healthy and available Godoy is going to be the opening day starter, but the sophomore midfielder will get minutes this season.

Without a doubt, the Earthquakes will feature an International laden starting eleven on March 3 when they host Minnesota United in the season opener, but the day-to-day competition in training will keep everyone fresh and ready. There will be a lot of Vako, Hoesen, Godoy and others taking center stage, and there will be Quincy Amarikwa, Thompson, Yueill, and others waiting in the wings. Regardless of roster status, regardless of their backgrounds, talent and ambition are all that should matter when it comes to the team’s primary goal: winning.

“Quakes Questions” is an occasional series that will focus on the topics you, our readers, are looking to learn more about. Ask me, @robertjonas on Twitter, anything that is on your mind, or visit the Center Line Soccer Facebook page and leave a question there. Be sure to tag your message with #QuakesQuestions, and I’ll answer as many of your questions as I can. Thanks, everyone!