BY ADAM SERRANO
The San Jose Earthquakes are Chris Wondolowski's team and rightfully so.
Over the past two seasons, Wondolowski has scored more goals than any player in MLS, earning at least a share of the scoring title both years. But this offseason, the Earthquakes have undergone a significant revamping across the field in hopes of reliving the pressure off one of the league's top forwards.
"We've made a lot of additions that have made our team stronger and it's almost as if we rebranded," said Wondolowski. " Our style of play will change a bit, we'll be able to create more offensively and we're all really excited for it. I had a huge smile on my face throughout the offseason as we began to make all these moves"
Wondolowski was right to be pleased since with the return of midfielder Simon Dawkins as well as the additions of Honduran winger Marvin Chavez, Turkish forward Sercan Güvenisik and Colombian midfielder Tresser Moreno, among others, the Earthquakes have rebuilt an offense that struggled at times last season.
Here is a closer look at the San Jose Earthquakes ahead of the 2012 MLS Season.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES 2012 MLS SEASON PREVIEW
2011 FINISH: 8-12-14 (seventh place in Western Conference)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: M Shea Salinas, M Jean Alexandre, M Marvin Chávez, D Víctor Bernárdez, M Tressor Moreno, M Sam Garza , M/F Simon Dawkins F Cesar Diaz Pizarro, F Sercan Güvenisik
KEY DEPARTURES: D Bobby Burling, M Matt Luzunaris, M/D Bobby Convey, D Chris Leitch, M André Luiz, M Jacob Peterson, F Scott Sealy, GK Andrew Weber
Too often over the past two seasons, the Earthquakes attack would stagnate when Wondolowski was not hitting the back of the net. Added with the fact that Wondolowski has yet to miss a match due to injury in two seasons, the Earthquakes need a full season of contributions from forwards Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart just in case their star goes down with an injury.
San Jose's moves were not limited to the offensive as the club bolstered their back line with the signing of Honduran defender Bernárdez, who is expected to share the starting centerback duties with Jason Hernandez. Both are expected to be challenged by third-year defender Ike Opara, who is eager to lock down a starting place after missing substantial time over the last two years due to injury.
With a host of reinforcements on both sides of the ball, the pressure is on the Earthquakes to improve in 2012.
"Every game that you have is a pressure situation. Listen, I want to win and I think that our club wants to win and I think we had a poor season on results last year and as many excuses as I can come up with, I'm not going to do any because it's irrelevant," said head coach Frank Yallop. "We didn't win and now we need to win this year. There's no added pressure, it's just a normal part of the job to get the group winning to win games.
"It's no different than any other coach, in the league where we all think we're going to win MLS Cup and we all think that we're good enough to get to the playoffs. I feel good with this group, we've got a good mentality, we're focused and we're going to be fine."
But for all the moves, the most significant one of the offseason wasn't on the field, but in the city council hall. On February 22nd, the San Jose Planning Commission ratified the plans for a new stadium nearby the club's current home of Buck Shaw Stadium. With the club still hoping to have the stadium completed sometime before the 2013 season, Yallop admits that it is a huge lift for a club that has been yearning for a place to call it's own since its inception.
"It's massive, since the day that myself and John [Doyle] committed to the Earthquakes, we were told that the stadium was going to get built, but three or four years in, we weren't sure if it was a sure thing so to get that vote and the move forward is massive for everyone," said Yallop. "To say that we are getting a stadium and now we can drive forward and look like a proper soccer club that is in our own home and look like a professional outfit, I think that's very important."
All together, after a positive offseason of moves, both on and off the field, the Earthquakes are confident that return to the playoffs could be in the offing.
"We're not trying to be a .500 team and squeak in to the playoffs," said Wondolowski. "We know that the West is very difficult with a lot of great teams, but we're trying to win the west and make it into the playoffs and ultimately win an MLS Cup. Those are our goals and that's what we should strive to achieve."