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Cristian Espinoza provides bright spot early in Earthquakes season

Argentine midfielder has been an offensive spark while San Jose struggles to find back of the net

MLS: Minnesota United FC at San Jose Earthquakes Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Listen – it’s been a tough start to the 2019 San Jose Earthquakes season. The Quakes have been outscored 4-1 and are staring down the barrel of an 0-2-0 record ahead of going on the road to play the New York Red Bulls, a side that on paper has far more quality than either the Montreal Impact or Minnesota United FC.

Instead of focusing on what isn’t, I want to take a look at a player who’s shown positives in his first 180 MLS minutes with San Jose. Cristian Espinoza is a solid attacking player on a club that has struggled to score in its first two games. He leads San Jose with six shots and led the Quakes in Key Passes (those are passes that lead to scoring opportunities) against the Loons on Saturday.

He also has two shots on goal, and while he has not factored on the score sheet yet, it feels like a matter of time. Espinoza has taken command of set pieces for the Quakes and while I’m not blown away by his ability there, it’s worth noting that we’re talking about a small sample size.

Espinoza played for Boca Juniors in 2017-18 and the Quakes acquired him from Villarreal using the fake-ass Targeted Allocation Money [called TAM by MLS because the league knows how shady it is]. He’s played the entirety of the Quakes’ first two matches in the midfield and has been a bright spot, not just because the rest of San Jose’s attack has been anemic.

Danny Hoesen has only gotten minutes off the bench in the early going of San Jose’s season because of match fitness [it appears] and I’m excited to see what the pair can do together. It seems the Quakes will need Espinoza, Hoesen, Chris Wondolowski and Magnus Eriksson on the pitch at the same time to overcome the team’s defensive deficiencies. That’s not ideal – but this team is imperfect.

“Cristian’s signing is the result of a collective effort over an extended period of time as both the player and Villarreal strongly believe that he will benefit under Matias’ guidance,” Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli said at the time of his signing. “When we outlined the qualities that we sought in an attacking player, namely to add speed and versatility both on and off the ball, Cristian checked all the boxes.”

That makes sense – but what the Quakes need right now is better distribution when they get into the attacking third. San Jose is legitimately good at connecting passes all over the field except when it gets into the opponent’s side of the field. Wondo is good for a bit of magic in the box once or twice a game … but that strategy just won’t do when the team gives up two or three goals a game.

Espinoza is a step in the right direction and a player to watch, but he won’t solve all the Quakes’ problems. Still, a step is more than San Jose had a year ago.