The San Jose Earthquakes were one of the last teams officially eliminated from playoff contention last season, and head coach Dominic Kinnear is hopeful his side finishes above that red line after making depth signings this offseason.
Striker Chad Barrett and defender Andres Imperiale were some of the early offseason moves made by the West Coast club. And the addition of Simon Dawkins as a Designated Player has the Earthquakes looking like a team that could fight for one of six playoff spots in the Western Conference.
“You always want to improve on the year before, and finishing seventh in the Western Conference is obviously the position we didn’t want to be in,” Kinnear told SBI ahead of the 2016 season. “The Western Conference, I feel, is very difficult. No easy games. Everyone’s got a little bit better, but our expectations are to make the playoffs.”
“The biggest hurdle was coming to a new team and getting to know the new players. I think most everyone sitting back and looking would say that the Western Conference is the stronger of the two conferences, which I don’t know if that’s necessarily true because there’s difficult games in both. There’s no layups in this league, especially when the game starts. I really only knew one guy previously when I coached, which is Chris Wondolowski, but that for me wasn’t a problem. I actually enjoyed that.”
Kinnear’s coaching career mainly consists of Eastern Conference experience, so the 2015 season was certainly a learning curve for the former MLS player turned coach. Kinnear embraced the challenge, though, and is excited to see what year two has in store.
Here is a closer look at the 2016 San Jose Earthquakes:
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES SEASON PREVIEW
2015 FINISH: 13-13-8, 47 points (7th in Western Conference)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: Simon Dawkins, Andres Imperiale, Chad Barrett, Andrew Tarbell, Alberto Quintero
KEY LOSSES: Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, Khari Stephenson, Mike Fucito, Paulo Renato, Tomas Gomez, Leandro Barrera
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Simon Dawkins. The Jamaican international has returned to play in MLS as a DP after spending the past two years playing in England. He was a big part of the Earthquakes Supporters’ Shield title run in 2012, and is expected to be one of the difference-makers again this season.
PRESSURE IS ON: Matias Perez Garcia. With a DP tag comes pressure and responsibility. Garcia started 25 of the 27 games he appeared in last season for the Earthquakes, scoring two goals and providing seven assists. However, the second half of the 2015 season wasn’t great for the 5-foot-5 midfielder. The club needs more production up front, and Garcia is one of the players who needs to step up and provide this season.
The Earthquakes boast a strong defense, but the key to the team’s success this season will be the front line.
Coach Kinnear says he’s looking at using a 4-4-2 with Quincy Amarikwa, who joined the team last summer, and Chris Wondolowski leading the charge. Barrett, who moved to the Earthquakes from the Seattle Sounders this offseason, will be the option coming off the bench to start the season. DP Innocent Emeghara will also be an option to play alongside Wondolowski once he is fully fit and available.
Wondolowski-Amarikwa played well off of each other towards the end of the season last year and have been doing well thus far in preseason play.
“I’m looking forward to starting again, getting the season started,” centerback Clarence Goodson told SBI. “I think that we really started to come together the second half of last season, and it’s good to have all of those mid-season additions. That really helped us push for the playoffs last year. So I think that’s going to be very important for us — to have from kickoff close to our best 11 as possible.”
The American defender will be lining up next to Honduran international Victor Bernardez, despite the addition of Argentine centerback Imperiale this winter. He will likely see minutes, though, if Bernardez or Goodson are called up for national team duty or dealing with injuries.
“I think we’re one of the best defenses in the whole league,” Goodson said. “We proved that last year. Nobody really talked about that at all, for whatever reason, but we were very good for the whole season. So I think that’s a good backbone of our team, and we brought in some good additions that can score some goals.”
U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team midfielder Fatai Alashe is back training after recovering from . Marc Pelosi is another young midfielder who is recovering from injury, and is expected to return in two to three months time.
Despite some injuries, most of the Earthquakes best players will be ready to go come opening day against the Colorado Rapids. The Earthquakes addressed areas of need this offseason like Barrett, who Kinnear thinks is “good for five to 10 goals” this season. And if the defensive stars stay healthy, the club could be the darkhorse in the Western Conference.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP