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San Jose Earthquakes 2020 MLS season preview

Can Almeyda lead his side to another big improvement in year two?

MLS: LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Jose Earthquakes enter the 2020 MLS season like pretty much every team: Full of hope that they can find success. Ahead of their season opener on Saturday at home against Toronto FC, here’s a look at what is on tap for the Quakes in the new campaign.

How did they finish in 2019?

The Quakes had a 13W-16L-5D finish last year, good for 8th place in the Western Conference, which was one place but four points out of the final playoff spot. So depending on how you look at it, they just missed the postseason or missed by more than a little.

What’s new in 2020?

Honestly, not a lot. The big talking point heading into the season is the team has largely stood pat on the roster in Matias Almeyda’s second season, with the only newcomer likely to start being defender Oswaldo Alanis. His signing went under the radar a bit in a deluge of Mexicans joining MLS this offseason, partly because he’s a defender and partly because the Quakes don’t tend to draw much national attention. Still, Alanis has the potential to be a major upgrade in defense for San Jose, and his experience playing for Almeyda, to considerable fanfare previously at Chivas, means he should be a key contributor in 2020.

What’s the one storyline you’ll be following?

Will there be improvement? It wasn’t that hard for Almeyda to find a substantial improvement last year after Mikael Stahre’s disastrous months-long tenure the previous season, but the team hit a wall in the homestretch of 2019 and it ultimately cost them a playoff berth. The club has touted Almeyda’s unusual man-marking system as one that could pay dividends with minimal additional investment in the roster and just more time to figure it out with the current group, something that fans are unsurprisingly skeptical to hear. Ideally, with the amount of money being splashed around MLS, San Jose would be more involved in the transfer market and reinforce the roster while also keeping a core group together for continuity, but the club is opting to go all-in on continuity. Will that be enough? To be determined.

Who’s out?

  • GK - Andrew Tarbell
  • D - Harold Cummings
  • M - Anibal Godoy

Who’s in?

  • D - Oswaldo Alanis
  • D - Tanner Beason

What’s the new jersey?

Courtesy of MLS

The Quakes have a new secondary jersey in 2020, and are going in a new direction with this particular design. Showing some design continuity with the primary jersey with chest blocks, the white jersey with blue and yellow accents are meant to evoke San Jose’s city flag. That is a noble aspiration, except blue, yellow and white also happen to be the colors of the Quakes’ bitter rival, the LA Galaxy, and claims that this jersey could easily pass as a Galaxy one mean this one has gone over like a lead balloon, even locally. It may not go down in history as a pantheon-worst MLS jersey, but short of winning trophies in this, the new secondary probably won’t be well-regarded in Quakes lore.

Who’s the coach?

It’s year two for Matias Almeyda, the Argentine pledging his future to San Jose despite a flurry of rumors right after the season that he could make a quick return to Liga MX, with some of the top teams reportedly aiming to poach him.

Almeyda has an interesting background, having won two Argentine second-division titles, including with fallen power River Plate, and he is the most successful manager Chivas de Guadalajara had for generations, winning an elusive Liga MX title, two Copas MX and the Concacaf Champions League.

His natural charisma and unusual playing style make him an intriguing person in MLS, period, and you can make a credible case Almeyda is a personality who overshadows his team, which might be fine. It fits with the roster composition and identity of San Jose in an MLS context, however, and if he can bring real success to the Quakes, European clubs will be banging down his door before long.

Projected ideal XI

Even though San Jose are returning virtually the same roster, the XI may not be as settled as you would think. The player to partner Oswaldo Alanis in central defense — Guram Kashia or Florian Jungwirth — does not appear to be set yet, and fullback Nick Lima absolutely should be starting in MLS and if he is not dealt elsewhere will likely see real playing time.

There’s also the striker position. Chris Wondolowski is the MLS all-time leading scorer, and he’ll likely be good for double-digit goals yet again this year, but will he be the starter? Could Carlos Fierro, or Danny Hoesen, or Andy Rios take over the mantle in an actual passing of the torch this year? Or will Wondo be the team’s most reliable scorer until the day he stops playing? That’s a big question heading into the season.

How much will this roster change after the season starts?

Don’t hold your breath! But seriously, GM Jesse Fioranelli tends to make few moves and to make most of them in the offseason. Last year he signed Fierro and Rios on loan in the summer transfer window, and that was it. This offseason he’s signed one starter, one decent draft pick in Beason, and a couple homegrown players. The Quakes are going the Tottenham Hotspur route, which worked...until it very much didn’t. But for now, that’s the plan, and this is more or less the group San Jose will have this season.

What’s the biggest concern for this season?

Will progress continue in 2020? Betting big on another season in the system works sometimes (it worked for LAFC in 2019 in a very big way) but it often does not, especially for teams that still struggled to compete at times in the year where improvement happened. If the Quakes are adrift at the bottom of the table in May, can they regroup and come back? Will Almeyda stay in the long run, regardless of whether the team is doing great or badly? The club appears to be banking on improvement, and there’s real fear heading into the season they’ll face some hard truths once the games begin.

Expectations for 2020?

The expectations are pretty simple for the Quakes in 2020: Make the playoffs. San Jose have played one postseason match in the last seven years, and as they aim to become a Moneyball-style contender, progress is to get back into the playoffs and see if the project to bring a coherent group year-over-year, while the rest of the league seems to be spending more money than ever, will pay off over time.

What do you think? Where do you peg the Quakes’ prospects in 2020? Let’s chat about it in the comments below!