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San Jose Earthquakes 2020 player postmortem: The players who didn’t play

Kicking off our series by checking in on those we didn’t see on the field.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at San Jose Earthquakes Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

In a year when fixture congestion pushed MLS teams to the limits of their roster, the San Jose Earthquakes used nearly all of their players rostered in 2020.

In the end, only three players did not play any competitive games for the Earthquakes this year, and we kick off our season reviews of all the players by taking a moment to discuss those who did not play.

Matt Bersano

The 28-year-old goalkeeper came back for his fourth season with the club in 2020, but the odds were stacked against him nevertheless, with Daniel Vega and JT Marcinkowski trading stints as the starters for the season. Age-wise, Bersano was roughly halfway between the two GKs ahead of him on the depth chart, but that may have gone against him, unwittingly, with Matias Almeyda sticking with the older Daniel Vega too long and the younger Marcinkowski providing an immediate boost in the back when he got a regular run.

In the end, that left Bersano as the odd man out, but as the No. 3, it wasn’t altogether surprising. That’s the life of the third-string ‘keeper, in many respects the toughest slot on a roster, with a ton of training and the promise of playing time usually out of reach.

The Earthquakes have made an offer to Bersano for 2021 as he’s out of contract, and it’s now up to him to take it and stick around or try his luck elsewhere. As a player with a good amount of experience in the USL Championship, he’d likely get a deal there in short order and could find playing time pretty quickly too, but a second-tier contract would likely be much less lucrative, even compared to MLS third-string goalkeeper standards. So, will Bersano take the deal? Will he opt to test the waters elsewhere in MLS or the USL? We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Emi Ochoa

Technically, 2020 was Ochoa’s first pro season, after he signed a Homegrown contract in Nov. 2019. However, he was the youngest-ever Homegrown signing, at 14, and the second-youngest signing overall in MLS history, behind only Freddy Adu. Wow!

Times have changed since Adu entered MLS and we all knew Ochoa was a project who won’t be hitting the field with the first team for years. This is one of the few times when it makes sense for an MLS team to carry four healthy goalkeepers on the roster, with Ochoa intended to train, mature physically and mentally, and develop his game for an eventual debut.

There have been MLS goalkeepers who have found success after debuting as teenagers — Bill Hamid is a notable example — but Ochoa is still just 15 and he’s one for the future. That future’s unlikely to be 2021, although he’s still under contract, and he’ll continue to develop internally before he can hit a lower-division game in a year or two.

Casey Walls

MLS: 2020 MLS Portraits USA TODAY Sports

Besides the two goalkeepers, the only outfield player who didn’t hit the field in 2020 was Casey Walls. The center back signed a Homegrown deal at the end of last year shortly before he turned 17, and was highly touted as a calm presence who had good size in the youth ranks.

While I thought he would get a look, the Earthquakes have been pretty deliberate in bringing through their teenage Homegrowns over the past few years. Jacob Akanyirige had to bide his time before getting his debut this year, and Walls is likely to have the same trajectory. We know Ochoa is going to take a slow track, and year over year, we’ve seen Gilbert Fuentes grow up in front of our eyes as he’s periodically gotten some playing time. Cade Cowell has been the exception, but even Cowell isn’t an automatic starter — he’s a teenager whose development track is ahead of his peers, but other players will need more time before they’re ready for the MLS moment.

And that appears to be the case for Walls. Center back is such a vital position to get right, but I won’t be shocked if Almeyda gives Walls his debut in 2021. He remains under contract, but we’ll see what happens, as he could be the starter of the future right here if all goes well in his development.

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