Despite the sour end to the season, the San Jose Earthquakes had their best season in recent memory behind the teachings of first-year manager Matias Almeyda. Sure, in 2017, they actually made it to the playoffs, but that was still a squad that relied on “goonie time” to win matches. In 2019, after a one-month learning curve, they won with a suffocating man-to-man style that had them competing in most matches and winning a lot of them. But still they fell short of the playoffs.
Now it seems the Quakes front-office has its eyes on a bigger prize in 2020.
Almost as soon as the final whistle was sounding in Portland, the rumor mill starting spinning. “Source” after “source” in the Mexican media said that Almeyda was not happy in Northern California and was close to a move back to Liga MX.
Quakes fans, by this time more hunks of scar tissue than actual soccer fans, didn’t even fight back against the rumors. They are used to the offseason being the time that reality hits them smack in the face and crushes any hope of glory the next year. But so far, this offseason has been different.
After a torturous week for fans, Matias Almeyda set the record straight on his own. On October 9th, he held a press conference to announce his commitment to the Quakes. He talked about staying the full term of his 4-year contract and his devotion to the team, stating, “There’s no need any more clarification. I hope the people of San Jose can start purchasing their season tickets because we need all the support we can get in the season to come.”
With their manager locked up, the front-office then went to work on the roster. The next question floating around San Jose revolved around the beloved legend Chris Wondolowski. Everybody was wondering if he would come back for one more season or hang up his cleats and enjoy retirement.
On October 22nd, the question was answered when the Quakes announced that Wondo would be back for at least one more season in black-and-blue. Though the details of the deal were not disclosed, one would guess that the legend gave his beloved team a hometown deal. While those 36-year-old legs have a lot of mileage on them, his 15 goals in 2019 showed that the old soldier still has a lot of fight left in him. Next season the last half hour of matches are going to be torture for defenses that have to deal with super-sub Wondo.
Two days after the Wondo announcement, the team signed German defender Florian Jungwirth to a “multi-year” contract. The 30-year-old adopted Californian has been the Quakes defender of the year two of the three seasons he has played in San Jose. It’s hard to show how valuable defenders are to their teams, but anyone that has watched a match with Flo in the lineup knows what he means to the Quakes. He gives an all-out effort every match and is a fearless defender. He was second in the league in interceptions with 66. Despite his aggressive nature, he has suffered more fouls (101) than he has committed (93) and has never been suspended for ejection or yellow card accumulation.
These signings alone would show that the front office is committed to rewarding players that have not only shown loyalty to the team but have also produced results on the pitch. But the front office was not done.
On Tuesday, the team announced that it had signed Brazilian defender Judson to a multi-year deal using Targeted Allocation Money. I must be honest; if this deal were announced in May of this year, I would have questioned the foresight of the front office. Judson seemed to understand Almeyda’s system from the start of the season. Still, he struggled to find chemistry with his teammates. As the season progressed, Judson found his comfort zone. He quickly became one of the more dependable defensive midfielders on the roster.
These moves are not ground shaking type signings that will get the whole country talking. But they are different than the steps of other postseasons. What they show is a multi-year commitment to the Matias Almeyda project. An experiment that has yielded fruit in its first year of execution.
Almeyda himself is aware that a huge signing is not what is needed to move this team forward. When asked what kind of players they were looking to sign in the offseason, the humorous Almeyda responded with, “When it comes to signings, we are debating between Cristian Ronaldo and Messi.” This answer is both a classic Almeyda response where he doesn’t give you the soundbite you want and a metaphor that tells you exactly how he feels.
These are positive moves and show that the team is ready to compete next season. The Quakes were 90 minutes away from a playoff spot in 2019 and failed. The 2020 version of this team does not expect to repeat that failure.