Cristian Espinoza has one goal and two assists so far this season for the San Jose Earthquakes. Only Cade Cowell has more combined production for the Quakes, with two goals and three assists to date.
Ahead of the season restart after a three-week break because of the international window, the Earthquakes are on a four-game losing streak but have not exactly played badly throughout that run, which makes it rather puzzling. If they’re playing well enough, what’s the issue? Are they unlucky?
I think there have definitely been unlucky games — the losses to the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy in particular were truly star-crossed games for San Jose — but to an extent, there’s a sense that players have to step up, too. And one of those players is Espinoza.
The Argentine’s production tends to be pretty sneaky, admittedly. He’s never been much of a scorer in MLS, totaling six goals across two seasons and some change, but his assists have been solid, with 10 primary assists in a full 2019 and seven primary assists in a shortened 2020 campaign. Plus, his chance creation numbers have been elite in MLS terms.
But with the Quakes misfiring, Espinoza has had his moments, but has also disappointed at times to start the season. When they were posting great wins over FC Dallas and D.C. United, it wasn’t such a big deal. With the team stuck in the mud, he’s needed now.
Just eight games in, Espinoza’s expected goals, per FBref.com, is 2.8 for the season. That’s a small sample size, but with just one goal scored, the numbers show an underperformance that is apparent in the “eye test.” In other words, it’s not a misperception.
So, what to be done? I don’t doubt Espinoza is working hard, and I think opponents have put more and more attention on him this season, as his trademark move, to receive a big switch on the right flank and look to get the ball to a teammate to set up a chance, is being covered better than ever. Matias Almeyda has played with swapping Espinoza to the left flank to try and throw opponents off, but with only a few players reasonably productive on the Earthquakes — Cowell, Chris Wondolowski, Chofís Lopez and Espinoza — it’s honestly pretty easy to cover those players of late.
Again, Espinoza’s influence does not usually result in performances where he scores a goal and two assists, but he’s clearly not quite at his best yet. As the lone Designated Player on the team, his influence is outsized, since he’s the one making the big bucks and expected to change games. Can he do it singlehandedly? Not really, it’s not his game. But there can be a reasonable expectation that he finds form again, and he helps loosen up the attack and lead to goals at a reasonable rate once more. In other words, the Earthquakes need him to be “the man” for the time being in terms of unlocking the attack, and if he can, their prospects should improve.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.