There is no doubt San Jose Earthquakes have progressed under Matias Almeyda; however his third season in charge has a make or break feel about it.
A disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, Almeyda arrived with an enviable managerial CV, guiding Guadalajara to domestic and continental success. Many were confused why the Argentine would take the reigns at San Jose, a side who were seven points adrift at the bottom of the 2018 MLS. His man to man approach is unique to Major League Soccer; however there are signs that opponents have worked San Jose out.
Almeyda’s first campaign had incredible highs, but massive lows. I appreciate a strong statement (especially during LAFC's incredible campaign) but for periods they were the best side in MLS in 2019, with performances away to LA Galaxy and the Vancouver Whitecaps as good as it gets. Having lost his first four games in charge, San Jose produced an amazing recovery, putting an 11-3-5 run together in the middle part of the campaign. Despite choking towards the end, losing nine of their last 11 matches, there was a real plan in place and San Jose were unrecognizable from 2018 when they finished comfortably bottom of the combined standings.
San Jose made the play-offs in 2020; however the pandemic brought about eight Western Conference play-off participants and San Jose would have fell short if it were a regular campaign. Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles embarrassed the Earthquakes and in eight of their 23 regular season matches, they conceded three or more. Despite the fact their points per game total was almost identical to 2019, it actually felt they stagnated slightly.
Almeyda remained with San Jose, despite reported interest from the Ecuadorian national team and Cruz Azul. 2021 is massive for the Earthquakes and should San Jose fail to build on the foundations they have built, the appeal of other ventures may become too much for Almeyda.
Signings Another relatively quiet window for the Earthquakes, with five notable additions and sales in the postseason.
The departures are more of a talking point, with two important players leaving for the newly formed Austin FC. Nick Lima has USMNT caps; Almeyda was never totally convinced by the full-back, often preferring the verstaile Thommy Thompson in the right-back role. Danny Hoesen the other allowed to leave for MLS's newest franchise. An arrival from FC Groningen back in 2018, Hoesen fell short of where he should have, returning a below par 22 goals in 96 MLS games.
The Georgian pair of Valeri Qazaishvilli and Guram Kashia exited the club. Neither were involved towards the end of the 2020 campaign and were frequently allowed to meet up with their national team early rather than sit on the bench.
As for the additions, Eric Remedi adds MLS experience and will joust with Judson for the defensive midfield role in the side. Luciano Abecasis will likely replace Nick Lima at right-back in a like for like move. Javier Lopez has been reunited with Almeyda, joining the club on loan from Mexican side Chivas.
Perhaps the biggest roster news is that Chris Wondolowski has stayed on for another year. The 38-year-old had claimed he would retire at the end of the 2020 season, however will have another 12 months to extend his record as the leading goalscorer in MLS history.
In Eric Remedi from Atlanta United Luciano Abecasis from Club Libertad (Paraguay) Javier Lopez from Chivas (loan) Tommy Williamson (draft pick) Benjamin Kikanovic from Reno FC Out Nick Lima to Austin FC Danny Hoesen to Austin FC Guram Kashia to FC Locomotive (Georgia) Valeri Qazaishvilli to Ulsan Hyundai (South Korea) Luis Felipe to Sacremento FC
Goalkeepers: Daniel Vega and JT Marcinkowski will battle it out for the number one jersey this season. Half way through 2020, Marcinkowski ousted Vega from the side, a call that probably should have happened months prior. Vega isn’t a bad shot stopper; however he often made ridiculous errors, look no further than his own goal vs. FC Dallas in 2019. Marcinkowski has the potential to be a USMNT goalkeeper and I’d be surprised if Almeyda doesn’t continue with him.
Defence: Oswaldo Alanis is a very good defender at MLS level and hopefully he can get on the field more than he did during a disjointed debut season. Question marks remain over the remainder of the defence though. Peruvian international Maros Lopez kicked on in 2020; however opponents will likely continue to target the left-back. Florian Jungwirth has never really convinced, but a lack of alternatives means he will continue in defence.
Midfield: Almeyda claimed early in his tenure that Jackson Yueill can play in Europe and he has progressed into an excellent MLS midfielder under the Argentine. Yueill is a regular in the USMNT and captained the U23’s during their Olympic qualification. He has forged a good partnership with Judson; however I’d expect Remedi to run the Brazilian close for a spot in the side.
Wingers: Cristian Espinoza doesn’t have incredible returns since his arrival from Villarreal; however he is undoubtedly one of the best wingers in MLS. Unfortunately on the other flank, San Jose isn't so blessed. Carlos Fierro became a regular towards the end of the 2020 campaign, but the Mexican wouldn’t get into many MLS sides.
Attack: Wondolowski has 20 goals in two seasons under Almeyda, which given his age, is an incredible return. He is now 38 though and isn’t expected to be a regular. Andres Rios unfortunately hasn’t done it since joining from Argentine side Racing Club, returning just six goals in 18 months. Despite this he suits the Almeyda style and will likely lead the line come opening day of the season. 2021 could be the breakthrough campaign for youngster Cade Cowell who has looked good in glimpses.
Predicted XI (4-3-3): Marcinkowski; Abecasis, Alanis, Jungwirth, Lopez; Judson, Yueill, Lopez; Espinoza, Fierro, Rios
Under previous managers this is easily a bottom two roster; however with Almeyda I’d expect them to get close to replicating an eighth placed finish.
Given the lack of quality in the squad, I expect them to fall just short of the play-offs.
By: Joshua Jones