The San Jose Earthquakes are gearing up for their season opener on Feb. 29 against Toronto FC, and with the preparations well underway, it’s time to take a look at the options in defense for Matias Almeyda in 2020.
Let’s run through the players in the mix currently on the roster in alphabetical order:
The big new addition this offseason, the Mexican joins with big expectations and has a combination of experience, international pedigree and skill. You never know how new signings, even big names, will adjust to the unusual rigors of MLS, but it would be truly shocking if Alanis is not a regular starter at center back if he’s healthy and available.
The 18-year-old homegrown fullback hasn’t yet made his MLS debut, and could see his first top flight experience this year. As I wrote last week, I think chances are he’ll see a more sustained run on loan at Reno 1868 FC, so as a result he’s firmly penciled in at a “depth” slot on the Quakes roster.
The rookie is a bit of a wild card for this season. In recent years, the Quakes have drafted defenders and often used them as deep bench options, but Almeyda has shown an interest in using a fair number of players in his core group and San Jose were thrilled to draft the Stanford product. The big question is his level — some recent Stanford products (Jordan Morris) have gone on to be stars on the MLS stage, and others (Tomas Hilliard-Arce) never got a real shot in MLS. If Beason is MLS-caliber, he could get some run as a rotation option this year. If not? He’ll be a reserve and perhaps go out on loan. To be determined.
The German (pictured, top) has yearned to be a midfielder over the years but really looks like a much better player at center back in MLS, and is most likely going to line up in the back again. The big question is whether Jungwirth will remain a starter or the primary backup, but the 31-year-old has been pretty steady over the years and if he’s not a starter will almost certainly be the first man up if there’s a need at center back.
Kashia is the other top candidate to pair with Alanis in the middle, if it’s not Jungwirth, and much of the same applies to the Georgian. Jungwirth is more cerebral, Kashia more rugged physically, and it will probably be a matter of which pair Almeyda thinks will mesh together better. Like Jungwirth, if Kashia isn’t a starter he’ll likely be third on the depth chart at CB.
The enigma of this group, Lima started the majority of San Jose’s games last year but there was still the sense that he wasn’t really in Almeyda’s plans. It happens, but consider Lima has a skillset that most teams would drool over: Athletic, a two-way right back who can do the complex fullback-to-central midfielder system Gregg Berhalter asked of him on his debut last year, and probably the best crosser in the entire league. Crossing isn’t quite as vital a skill as it used to be in the sport, but having a player with a differential edge like Lima has means he has to be an asset.
Does that mean he’ll be the starter? Will Almeyda settle on him in 2020? Is he on the trading block, as has been rumored over the past year? These are probably the biggest questions surrounding the Quakes defense heading into the season.
The young left back took his lumps in 2019 and started about half the games. I’ll be honest, I thought his defending was suspect most of the time, so the hope for 2020 is that he’s adjusted to MLS and will make a step up this season. If he doesn’t, the Peruvian probably won’t be long for the Quakes.
The 24-year-old got a bit of run in 2019, and will probably play a similar role this year, as a depth option who gets some chances to show what he can do over the course of the season. If he rises to the occasion, he could play more.
TomThom was a vital player for Almeyda last year, and his versatility included some real run at fullback. It’s tricky to project his primary position this year but his energy, skills and versatility mean it’s pretty likely he’ll continue to be a regular, somewhere on the field, this year.
Walls is a 17-year-old rookie and will probably be a deep bench option this season, but there have been projections he could be ready for the bright lights of MLS, and if he is, he could see some playing time at center back if there’s a crisis among the players in front of him on the depth chart.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!