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.
It will be a while before Opara is match-fit, and IMHO Burling is clearly a fall-back option. McDonald has been a good band-aid, but he isn’t really a strong option – he gets caught ball-watching a little too often. With Andre Luiz still recovering and Ampaipitakwong still too-fresh, we might see McDonald in a destroyer position, with Burling filling in at CB. And don’t forget (and Serrano’s preview fails to notice this), we still don’t have a strong claim for the RB position).
I’m just hoping that Doyle and Yallop are not done signing players. While Ampai has skills, he’s still some time away from adjusting to the speed and size of MLS defenders. Andre Luiz on the other hand is likely to miss the first few games of the season while recovering from his injury and who knows how effective he’ll be once he’s back. We need that player in the midfield that will pull the strings from day 1.
The tottenham connection is through Billey Beane, the brain behind Moneyball (see link). He lended his unique statiscal approach to scouting to Tottenham a while back and upon joing the Quakes, linked the two clubs together.
“When the A’s ownership group agreed to purchase the reincarnation of the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer, Beane, who is an avid supporter of Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League, began developing a system for objectively analyzing soccer players. He has agreed to help the Earthquakes front office develop a method for building a cost-effective team, as the salary cap in MLS is even more restrictive than the A’s small-market status in Major League Baseball”
@ Jon in Quakes Land, remember when they tried Jason at right wing a few times when leitch was hurt and before we got Ward? mixed results- and only his recovery speed saved him at times. BMac prefers midfield, but he’s second choice to Cronin- and maybe even Brad Ring.
like you i think our backline is corrales, Ike, Jason, but Tim or Chris Leitch on the right.
@ Dennis, word from training camp is Ampai is already getting a lot of time in the AM role these first two weeks. i hope he develops fast and can contribute right away, but we may look to USL addition Donatelli in that role, especially if Sealy and Andre Luiz aren’t fit in time.
I hope they develop a style that will bring Ampaipitakwong into the role of creative midfielder. He might be a year or two away from being ready to be the guy who pulls the strings, but he has the vision and skill to transform the way soccer is played in the MLS.
That’s one of the biggest questions I have. How are they going to put together a back 4 when they have Hernandez (a lock), Opara, Burling (underrated!), and McDonald all able to play CB? Hernandez and McDonald have said to have great chemistry in the back, but how can you not have Opara in there? I personally hate Tim Ward, so if Jason is deemed good enough for RB, then a Corrales/Opara/McDonald/Hernandez backline would be absolute money to me.
They have four good centerbacks… I bet DC or NE could use one.