Victor Decolongon/Getty

2010 San Jose Preview: Earthquakes still rumbling out West

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