By ADAM SERRANO
The San Jose Earthquakes aren't hoping to catch lightning in a bottle again, but rather a year that signals their return to prominence for good.
Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski was the story last year, scoring 18 goals and earning the Golden Boot in 2010 and helping lead the club to the Eastern Conference finals. The impressive play by Wondolowski and midfielder Bobby Convey, as well as the timely goalkeeping of Jon Busch, helped bring San Jose back to the playoffs for the first time since the franchise was reborn. The challenge for Frank Yallop's men is to prove that last season was no fluke.
To improve that, the Earthquakes have worked hard in the offseason to make moves for players who can complement Wondolowski and add an additional punch to the San Jose attack. To do this, the Earthquakes traded away their first-round pick in last month's SuperDraft to the Columbus Crew for Steven Lehart and drafted Akron midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong.
In order to return to the playoffs and remain a major player in the highly competitive Western Conference, the Earthquakes have a number of looming questions. Yallop will need encore performances from Wondolowski, Convey and Busch to answer some of them.
Here is a closer look at the Earthquakes preseason:
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
Training schedule: Feb. 1-5 in San Jose; Feb. 6-11 in Ventura; Feb. 12-16 in San Jose; Feb. 17-27 at Spurs Lodge in London, England; Feb. 28-March 18 in San Jose.
Preseason game schedule: At Home Depot Center: Feb. 7 vs. Chivas USA; At Oxnard Sports Complex: Feb. 10 vs. LA Galaxy; Feb. 11 vs. Ventura County Fusion; In San Luis Obispo: March 4 vs. Colorado Rapids.
Key arrivals: F – Steven Lenhart; MF – Anthony Ampaipitakwong, Tony Donatelli; GK – David Bingham.
Key departures: F – Eduardo, Cornell Glen; MF – Geovanni, Arturo Alvarez; GK -Joe Cannon.
What to watch for: Lost in the shuffle behind Convey and Wondolowski is Brazilian midfielder Andre Luiz. He missed much of 2010 after a devastating knee injury, but the slick-passing Luiz is approaching full fitness and the Earthquakes attack should be bolstered by his re-introduction. In 2011, the Earthquakes will also be looking for added contribution from another 2010 injury casualty, Ike Opara. The defender scored three goals and was a Rookie of the Year candidate before his broken foot ended his season. Opara looks to be an integral part in the Earthquakes defense in 2011, but he will need to show his top form to win a spot ahead of Jason Hernandez or Brandon McDonald, who impressed at the end of last season.
Of note: For the second year in a row, the Earthquakes will travel to London to train with partner club, Tottenham Hotspur. During their stay with Tottenham last year, the Earthquakes faced the Spurs reserves as well as the Colorado Rapids. Look for the team to face English competition again during their latest trip…The club is currently in negotiations with midfielder Khari Stephenson, who played for the team last year but was not re-signed…The Earthquakes open their preseason exhibition schedule with a match at the Home Depot Center against Chivas USA on Monday. The friendly is open to the public.