SAN JOSE, Calif. — Here’s a friendly word of advice for anyone in charge of player personnel decisions for an MLS club:
When San Jose Earthquakes general manager John Doyle calls you, hang up the phone.
In recent years, almost every trade Doyle has made has yielded a lopsided haul in the Quakes’ favor. Among the players who have played critical roles in taking San Jose to a franchise-record 13-5-5 mark and a league-best 44 points this season, nearly half joined the Quakes from some other MLS city —- one where they didn’t have nearly the kind of impact they’re making in 2012.
Sam Cronin, unwanted by Toronto, has been a rock in midfield. Alan Gordon, plagued by injuries for years, has provided a career-high nine goals and endless late-game heroics. Steven Lenhart, a part-time player in Columbus, transformed himself into a cult figure en route to seven scores, another career best.
Marvin Chávez, ditched by FC Dallas so they could sign Blas Pérez, brought exactly the pace San Jose needed. Shea Salinas, an Expansion Draft perennial, blossomed into an incisive attacking force on the wing.
And then there’s Chris Wondolowski, who will forever go down in Earthquakes lore as the centerpiece of the most one-sided trade in club history — arriving from Houston with a 2010 second-round SuperDraft pick in exchange for Cam Weaver.
For Doyle, it’s not just a way for the Quakes — who have had only one Designated Player in their history, and feature none this season — to compete with higher-spending teams, such as Eastern Conference leaders New York, or the defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy, who both boast three DPs. It’s also the continuation of a long San Jose tradition.
“I think if you go back through the history of the league, and look at old San Jose Earthquakes [such as] Brian Ching, Brian Mullan, Craig Waibel, Dwayne De Rosario, these were all players that were around and available,” Doyle said. “I kind of think it’s been the style of this franchise.”
Of course, relying on underappreciated talent only works if you can unlock previously untapped potential. And that’s become a bit of a specialty for San Jose coach Frank Yallop.
“I think the environment itself, when they get here, helps a player to blossom into an individual,” Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “The way I run things is, I want the players to express themselves on and off the field. And I think that that helps people grow into what they’re naturally going to be. They wouldn’t be at this level if they weren’t good players. I just try to bring out the best in what they’ve got.”
The latest possible hidden gem San Jose’s hoping to shine up is midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy. The slick 29-year-old is on his fourth MLS club after the Quakes got him from New York on Monday in exchange for a 2013 international slot and conditional draft pick.
“I think any time you get traded, you feel disrespected a little bit, and it fires you up so you want to prove yourself,” Cronin told MLSsoccer.com. “I think Mehdi, he’s going to come in and work hard, and if he does that, I think Frank will probably push the right buttons and get the most out of him.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.