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San Jose Earthquakes 2020 player postmortem: Cristian Espinoza

Two words: Quietly elite.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at San Jose Earthquakes Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Cristian Espinoza returned for his second season with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2020, the Argentine hyped as a big (permanent) addition for the club.

Through two seasons, Espinoza’s role is very clear at this point: He’s not a stereotypical No. 10 playmaker but he’s the main playmaker for the team, frequently taking big switches on the right flank, and setting up teammates from there. Espinoza won’t be a top scorer, but his chance creation and assist numbers are quite good.

In fact, Espinoza is elite in terms of his assist numbers. In 2020, he was fourth overall in the league (just one behind the leaders) in regular season assists, with nine. Adding two more in the playoff game, 11 on the season is quite good in a shortened season in MLS.

Espinoza’s profile in 2020 really put him in the elite of playmaker-style attackers, according to FBRef, compared similarly to the likes of Darwin Quintero, Nicolas Lodeiro, Alejandro Pozuelo, and Diego Valeri, among others. That’s elite of the elite!

Here are Espinoza’s stats for 2020:

Cristian Espinoza 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 23 22 1,812 3 9 52 19 3 0
MiB Knockouts 2 2 166 1 0 5 1 1 0
Playoffs 1 1 120 0 2 3 1 1 0
Total 26 25 2,098 4 11 60 21 5 0

Given the ups and downs of the season, and the lower profile of the Earthquakes around the league, I think Espinoza’s accomplishments were rather downplayed. Yes, the Quakes’ faithful and the club know what they have in the player, but even so, I think he was quietly elite for a team that didn’t actually score freely.

Given the way the team was set up, Espinoza’s influence on the attack was huge, but San Jose’s style of play continues to flummox many opponents and he’s not being marked out of games. Having said that, there was no pattern to Espinoza’s goals or assists — he contributed in all manner of results, his production wasn’t really clumped into a certain period of the season, and there was no real correlation between the swings in the season and when he was involved in the goals.

And consider the Quakes struggled to find consistent scoring, one could imagine Espinoza’s numbers would be even better if there was another consistent scorer alongside Chris Wondolowski. While Eduardo Lopez’s arrival is expected to make a difference, the hope is likely that Chofis will share the burden of goals and assists alike, and if both players can get in form and produce, that should help San Jose considerably.

So I think Espinoza has had a couple quietly very good seasons, and the hope has to be at 26 at the start of the 2021 season, he still has room to get even better. For an attacking centerpiece, he flies below the radar, but he fits very well in Matias Almeyda’s system, and he seems to be getting more and more comfortable in MLS. If the Quakes can add another couple quality attacking pieces to really fill out the lineup, then Espinoza could really be in line for a breakout campaign. We’ll see if a special season is ahead for the player.

What do you think? leave a comment below.