2010 San Jose Preview: Earthquakes still rumbling out West

San Jose looks for a hot start after another sluggish year

The Tweet and Lowdown:

Something’s
got to give for Quakes 2.0 in year three. Avoiding another slow start, dreaded
injury bug is key for West cellar-dwellers.

Setting the Scene:

San Jose
knows it’s got to get off on the right foot this year, because a third straight
sluggish start isn’t an attractive prospect for a franchise still trying to
find its way in the third year of reincarnation. The odds alone say there’s no
way the star-crossed Earthquakes will suffer the pervasive injury problems they
endured last season: Knocks at nearly every position forced Frank Yallop to use
25 different starting lineups over the course of the year.

In the
end, the Quakes’ slow start doomed them to the Western Conference cellar for
nearly the entire season, and a porous defense that allowed a league-worst 50
goals didn’t help matters. Things looked up slightly with some key midseason
acquisitions and, coming into 2010, most of the team is finally at close to
full health. Yallop & Co. are hoping those bright spots -- as well as a
handful of added wild cards -- will help the team improve on an embarrassing
total of seven wins. Something must go right this season, as the battle for the
long-promised stadium in Silicon Valley will loom large in the background.

Key Changes:

- Players In: Eduardo (FC Basel-Switzerland), Javier Robles (Vélez
Sarsfield), Joey Gjertsen (Montreal Impact), Ike Opara (Wake
Forest), Justin Morrow (Notre Dame), Steven Beitashour (San Diego State)

- Players Out: Darren Huckerby (retired), Shea Salinas (Philadelphia Union), Aaron Pitchkolan (released), Mike Zaher (released), Simon
Elliott (M, released), António Ribeiro (released)

- Coaching/Staffing: Mark Watson hired as assistant coach

Star Attraction: Arturo Alvarez

There’s
no middle ground on the Quakes’ left-footed lightning rod: His hard-charging
style makes fans get up and cheer, but his tendency to disappear makes others
crazy. Either way, there’s probably no player on San Jose’s roster with more
raw talent than the mercurial 24-year-old winger/forward. Any time the Alvarez
gets the ball at his feet with one attacker to beat, you’ve got the makings of
a potential highlight reel. The Houston native was San Jose’s second-most
potent weapon last season (behind Ryan Johnson) with five goals, two assists and
22 shots on goal. If the former U.S. youth-teamer can stay consistent the
entire season, he’ll make the Earthquakes attack that much more dangerous.

Unsung Hero: André
Luiz

How many
MLS clubs can boast a holding midfielder who both played in the UEFA Cup
alongside Ronaldinho (at PSG) and won a Copa Libertadores (with São Paulo)? The
Quakes have both in this well-traveled Brazilian, who has also made stops in Mexico.
And after signing him last July, San Jose found its biggest presence in that
position since another Brazilian, Francisco Lima, patrolled the center of the
pitch in 2008. If André Luiz is recovered fully from a preseason knee surgery,
the Quakes have an anchor to protect their back four and prevent many of the
soft goals that doomed them last season.

Ready for Primetime: Ramón
Sánchez

Another
midseason pickup last summer, the experienced Sánchez gave San Jose’s midfield
a veteran presence with smarts, skills and strength. He also built a nice
rapport with André Luiz in an all-Latin central midfield, and even contributed
to the attack with two goals. This season, more of the burden will fall on the
El Salvador national team captain, who has become a quiet leader for the
growing number of Latin faces in the Quakes locker room. Sánchez also has
become somewhat of a mentor to Alvarez, who is now his teammate on the
Salvadoran national team to boot.

Storylines to Watch:  

If
there’s one thing the Earthquakes have lacked in their rebirth, it’s been
consistency in numbers. Johnson, Ramiro Corrales, Jason Hernandez and Joe
Cannon are the only holdovers from the debut of Quakes 2.0 in 2008. Around them,
a revolving cast of characters has been in and out of Buck Shaw Stadium. And
that won’t change in 2010. The club believes this current squad is good enough
to compete, but once again, these probably aren’t the same faces you’ll see all
season: The Quakes sit atop the allocation list, and also have the financial
wiggle room to add some bodies.

But
adding a DP? Probably not in the cards yet, especially with a stadium deal in
limbo. The club feels its newest addition, Brazilian striker Eduardo, has that
star quality, and that the 30-year-old European-league veteran will push fellow
forwards Johnson and Cornell Glen to perform. Meanwhile, expectations are high
for another sleeper addition, Argentine midfielder Javier Robles, who can man
the flanks as well as the middle of the park, and has defensive smarts on top
of it. Same goes for USL veteran Joey Gjertsen, who joins from the defending
champion Montreal Impact. And speaking of bite, No. 3 pick Ike Opara could be a
big lift for the Quakes back line. The former Wake Forest star was one of the
most coveted prospects at the SuperDraft, and may try to balance school with
work before his graduation.

What He Said: 

“For the
momentum of this franchise, we need a positive season immediately. We made the
necessary changes, but we can’t afford another slow start. Every single game
needs to count this year -- we need to go into the final game with a playoff
spot on the line.”

--
Goalkeeper Joe Cannon

If everything goes right:

It’s
hard to tell what to expect from these Quakes. For all their failures last
season, they looked their best with Sánchez and André Luiz holding down the
central midfield and with collaboration among their attackers. If they stay
healthy, the back line holds and Bobby Convey plays with all his heart, they
could surprise some people. But that’s an awful lot to ask for all parties
involved. Best-case scenario is probably a fifth-place finish in the West --
which may well be good enough for a playoff spot