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2021 San Jose Earthquakes season preview

Can superhuman belief carry them up a level again?

After a season full of ups and downs, the San Jose Earthquakes come off their longer-than-expected offseason and look to take MLS by surprise once again in 2021. Chris Wondolowski is back for another season, and the all-time leading scorer will surely get playing time, although he’s likely going to need to work his way into the starting XI yet again. Can San Jose not only reach the playoffs this season but really show they are ready for a step up? It’s going to be another fascinating season in the Bay Area.

San Jose Earthquakes (2020 record: 8W-9L-6D, 8th in Western Conference, lost in opening round of playoffs on penalty shootout)

Head coach: Matias Almeyda (3rd season)

Key additions: Eduardo “Chofis” Lopez, Luciano Abecasis, Eric Remedi

Key losses: Nick Lima, Vako, Guram Kashia, Danny Hoesen

Projected Best XI (4-2-3-1): GK - Marcinkowski; Abecasis, Jungwirth, Alanís, M. Lopez; Judson, Yueill; Espinoza, Chofis Lopez, Fierro; Rios

Best offseason move: The Earthquakes hope the arrival of Chofis Lopez will boost their performance and be a steal. The Chivas product was cast out by the Guadalajara club for off-field reasons last fall and needs a career reset. San Jose hope he’ll be revived under former coach Almeyda and boost their scoring output for pennies on the dollar.

Reasons to be worried about the Quakes: San Jose promised multiple big signings after essentially standing pat in 2020, and while they have added Chofis and Abecasis to their starting lineup, they could really use more upgrades in attack and defense. They have multiple Designated Player slots to use on said big signings, but have yet to pull the trigger. Almeyda has been able to wring more out of his roster than any other manager could in MLS, but unless a 20-goal scorer is in their midst already, which seems unlikely, they need more reinforcements to truly be more than an upstart playoff team. GM Jesse Fioranelli said the team is hard at work to add more players, but they may ultimately wait until the summer to add another starter or three.

Why the Earthquakes are worth watching: In the Almeyda era, games have largely been goalfests, on both sides, so there’s usually plenty of fireworks. Beyond that, the Quakes have a self-belief that can sometimes look misguided, but a decade-long track record of coming back in games, plus Almeyda’s ace man management, have combined to make this team believe they are in pretty much any game. Their self-belief is a superpower at this point, allowing them to fight and scrap for results when other teams would have thrown in the towel long before.

Beyond that, Almeyda’s playing style is unique in MLS. A disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, the Earthquakes use a man-marking system and play an incredibly vertical style of play. They are far more accustomed to chaos than most teams, and while it does fall apart, spectacularly, on occasion, their frantic approach usually unsettles opponents and leads to stretches of beautiful play among the blunt force. If you are a student of tactics then Quakes games are a treat, as you watch the chess match between Almeyda and his opposite number on the other bench.