After narrowly missing out on the playoffs last season, the Earthquakes look like they are primed to take another step forward in 2016.
2015 regular season: 7th Western Conference (13th overall)
MLS Cup odds: 40/1
Players in: Chad Barrett (free agency), Simon Dawkins (Derby County, free), Andres Imperiale (Deportivo Saprissa, free), Andrew Tarbell (SuperDraft), Alberto Quintero (Lobos BUAP, loan)
Players out: Mike Fucito (option declined), Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi (option declined), Khari Stephenson (option declined), Paulo Renato (option declined), Tomas Gomez (option declined), Leandro Barrera (Atletico San Martin, loan), J.J. Koval (waived)
With the return of Dominic Kinnear last season, the San Jose Earthquakes were looking to recover from a disastrous 2014 which saw them finish bottom of the Western Conference. The former US international, who was head coach of San Jose’s 2005 Supporters' Shield-winning side, won back-to-back MLS Cup titles and made two further finals during his eight-year stint with the Houston Dynamo, and it didn’t take him long to start working his magic back in the Bay Area. After overcoming a spate of injures, a sturdy defence combined with the summer additions of midfielder Anibal Godoy and striker Quincy Amarikwa helped keep the club in playoff contention right up until the last day of the regular season. Results ultimately didn’t go their way, but with all their key players returning and a few impressive offseason signings coming on board, Kinnear’s men will be aiming to take another big step forward in 2016.
Reasons to be positive
The Earthquakes boast a solid defence with David Bingham in goal and a backline of Marvell Wynne, Clarence Goodson, Victor Bernardez and Shaun Francis, but people certainly shouldn’t sleep on their attack either. Chris Wondolowksi continues to prove one of the most consistent goalscorers in MLS, while Amarikwa’s sheer persistence and work rate make him a serious handful for opposing defenders. Offseason signing Chad Barrett should also prove a decent option off the bench, while Designated Player Innocent Emeghara could be a major difference-maker once he fully recovers from the knee injury that wiped out most of his first season in the States.
Meanwhile, former Tottenham Hotspur and Derby County forward Simon Dawkins, who has returned for his second stint at the club, will offer plenty of creativity on the wing, while there are several other wide options for Kinnear to choose from between fellow newcomer Alberto Quintero, Shea Salinas, Matias Perez Garcia, Cordell Cato, Tommy Thompson and Sanna Nyassi.
With Rookie of the Year runner-up Fatai Alashe and Panama international Godoy, who was sensational last season following his July arrival, also holding things down in central midfield, Kinnear’s side go into the new campaign with no obvious weaknesses.
Trouble on the horizon?
The main issue for San Jose will be finding enough goals to keep up with the elite teams in the West. Wondolowski will likely be good for anything between 10 and 20 strikes – putting him on course to break Landon Donovan’s all-time scoring record by at least 2018 – but how much help he will get from his teammates remains to be seen. Kinnear’s tactical acumen will help the defence compete with the likes of the LA Galaxy, FC Dallas and Seattle Sounders, but matching those teams for production in the final third will prove a much tougher ask.
Key man: Chris Wondolowski
Despite turning 33 last month, Wondolowksi remains one of the most reliable strikers in MLS. The Quakes skipper netted 16 times in 31 regular season appearances last term, even while seeing a chunk of time in central midfield, as Kinnear’s side lost all three games he missed while away at the Gold Cup. With a career tally of 109 goals, he’ll likely pass Ante Razov to move into fourth place on the league’s all-time scoring list in 2016.
One to watch: Tommy Thompson
Hailed as a future US national team star upon signing a Homegrown deal with the Earthquakes in January 2014, Thompson has since been limited to just 1,551 MLS minutes and no goals or assists. The 20-year-old attacker’s technical ability is undeniable, however, and a solid preseason offers hopes that 2016 could finally be the year when he unleashes his bag of trick on the rest of the league. With the versatility to play out wide or through the middle, there are plenty of roles where Kinnear could use him.
Predicted regular season finish: 6th Western Conference
The Earthquakes undoubtedly got stronger over the offseason and hopefully shouldn’t suffer from the same injury issues which hampered them for the first half of 2015. There’s nothing especially flashy about their side compared to some of the top teams in the West, but their roster is deep and balanced enough to make them a serious dark-horse playoff threat.