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San Jose Earthquakes 2020 player postmortem: Vako

Designated Player struggled for consistency to the end.

Portland Timbers v San Jose Earthquakes

Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili returned for his fourth season with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2020. The streaky attacker was coming off a second decent season, in which he scored eight goals and five assists for the club.

In 2020, it was a tale of two seasons, ultimately. Ever-present to begin the season and through the MLS is Back Tournament, he remained a fixture in the lineup until the team turned around the season, and that pretty much spelled the end of his tenure.

It was always interesting to see if Vako and Matias Almeyda would mesh. Vako had a reputation, fairly or not, as a “luxury player,” who was all attack and floated in and out of games generally. Would he struggle to fit in with Almeyda’s high-octane demanding system, or step up with a new approach?

In the end it was a bit of both. Despite being touted as a real find when he joined the Quakes, Vako’s streakiness was great when he was on and awful when he wasn’t. At the same time, he was certainly game for the energy and defensive demands, and really proved he wasn’t a luxury player after all.

Here are Vako’s stats in 2020:

Vako 2020 Earthquakes Statistics

2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 15 9 799 3 1 28 14 0 0
MiB Knockouts 2 2 171 1 1 12 3 0 0
Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 17 11 970 4 2 40 17 0 0

But what was ultimately the turning point in San Jose’s season was Vako exiting the lineup after the tide-turning comeback win over LAFC at the end of September. He made one brief cameo after that, and honestly, the Earthquakes didn’t really miss him, even though he appeared to be healthy and available aside from when he was on international duty.

In 2019, Vako made around $1.6 million, per the MLS Players Association, so he presumably made something around that in 2020, too. Was that a useful investment, getting four goals and two assists in just under 1,000 minutes? Nope, that isn’t really efficient in a tightly constricted system like MLS.

And so it’s not a surprise that San Jose have decided to move on from the Georgian international before the 2021 season. The two big changes to the lineup when Almeyda turned the Quakes’ 2020 season around down the stretch was benching Daniel Vega and Vako. While Vega’s departure was far more prominent in the moment with JT Marcinkowski bringing immediate stability at goalkeeper, the fact that the Earthquakes didn’t miss Vako on the field seemed to seal his fate.

Still just 27, Vako will surely find a new team before long, although I’m a bit surprised he doesn’t appear to have signed anywhere yet. I expect he’ll be back in Europe, but we’ll see what happens.

He ended his Earthquakes tenure with 26 goals and 13 assists in 93 MLS regular season appearances. There were definitely good moments and runs where he seemed to be on fire, but unfortunately those were only periodic and he never hit a consistent run of form, including in 2020. Thanks for the memories, Vako, and best of luck moving forward.

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