The New San Jose EarthquakesThings are set to change big time in 2014 season
by Luke James | Tuesday, December 31, 2013
It’s time to forget everything you think you know about the San Jose Earthquakes. By all means, carry the triumphs, the memories of those amazing last gasp wins, with you as part of the club’s ever growing tradition of excitement and soccer excellence.
But 2014 will show the world a very different Earthquakes team for a few reasons.
Mark Watson’s first full term
Suddenly finding himself in charge of an ailing team last summer and managing to survive as “interim head coach,” 2014 will be Watson’s first full season as full-time manager of the San Jose Earthquakes. The Quakes were 11-5-3 during his 19 games as head coach in 2013 and came within a hair’s breath of making MLS Cup qualification. Under his guidance his team is in the quarter finals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
As a former defensive player with an 18-year career, including 3 seasons with English Championship side Watford FC, Watson rearranged the San Jose defense to become the tightest in MLS for his spell as interim head coach.
A new squad
Several key players have departed the 2012-13 Earthquakes squad. Midfielder Rafael Baca has transferred to Cruz Azul of Mexico’s Liga MX, and Justin Morrow has gone to Toronto FC. Players released by the club were Mehdi Ballouchy, Nana Attakora, Dan Gargan and Evan Newton. With their sights on later acquisitions 2014 will bring a new look Earthquakes. Having tightened the defense, it’s likely we can look forward to new tactical approaches in midfield and attack.
As both the club and MLS as a whole grows and matures, change in the San Jose Earthquakes reputation might occur in 2014. We’ll see a shift in emphasis away from last gasp tying and winning goals to steadily built wins based on consistent team performance. The legacy of the Bash Kids will become part of the club’s rich history as opposed to a reality on the field. Right?
Striker Steven Lenhart spent last season shorn of his wild locks, playing like a dedicated professional intent on losing the bad boy, tough guy tag. Similar trends were seen in Europe with the likes of Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez and Frank Ribéry.
Another trend seen in Europe this season and which MLS teams show greater evidence of displaying is playing the ball out of defense by short, ground passes. A team confident enough to play its way out of tight defensive situations not only sends a message to the opposing team, it allows that passing game to progress up the field and eventually through opposing teams defenses. There’s a different type of stress on a defense that’s being pressured than on an offense moving forward. If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, as the saying goes.
The game needs to move beyond long clearances up field with everyone galloping after it or jumping and hoping to get lucky on the edge of the penalty area.
Imagine if service to the likes of Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon and Lenhart was provided with greater accuracy and consistency. Obviously, tightening the defense is only one half of the equation, a good starting point, but the ball needs to hit the back of the net consistently as well.
San Jose's new stadium
The Earthquakes new home has its first steel girders in place and will be ready for the 2015 season. Having their own soccer specific stadium, their turf, will be a major boost to the team’s morale and sense of place in MLS. Seating 18,000, located right by San Jose International Airport, 2 miles from downtown and with direct freeway access from 101 and 880, it will also have a major growth effect on the local economy.
The European-style roof covers all stands and will help hold crowd noise inside the stadium and build atmosphere. It’s going to get noisy in there.
Other stadium news is that the Quakes have been chosen to initiate the new $1.1 billion 49ers Levi’s Stadium in August with a game against Seattle Sounders. For the first time in history, a US professional soccer team will have soccer lines painted first on a new NFL field.
And the days of US soccer having to paint their lines over NFL lines are all but over. It’s now a condition of the current $100m buy-in to start a MLS franchise that the expansion team has to build a soccer specific stadium.
NEXT UP: March 15 – San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake, Buck Shaw Stadium, San Jose, Calif. 10:30 EST, MLS Live.