Soccer know-it-alls were pretty dismissive of coach Frank Yallop’s team heading into the 2012 season. Yallop, a respected players' coach who guided the 2001 and 2003 Earthquakes to MLS Cups, was branded by some as “defensive-minded,” his team too pedestrian to make the playoffs.
How wrong they were.
From the ashes of an injury-plagued 2011 season came the kind of season in which feel-good movies are spawned. With a slew of late-game heroics, “The Goonies” won the Supporters’ Shield, scored an astonishing 74 goals, and won or tied 28 out of 34 regular-season games one year after missing the playoffs. They also advanced to the Western Conference semifinals.
It was an incredible turnaround season, and Yallop was rewarded on Tuesday when he was named the MLS Coach of the Year for the second time in his 10-year career.
“He’s tremendous,” club president Dave Kaval said of Yallop. “I think Frank is everything you want in a head coach. He interacts real well with the players. He’s great with management. He has this uncanny ability to develop young players, whether it was Landon Donovan 10 years ago or Chris Wondolowski now or Steven Beitashour.
“I think that’s a real treasure to have someone like that. You really feel it in the actual locker room because everyone feels so connected to him in that way.”
In a landmark season for the club, Earthquakes fans knew better than to leave early. Yallop’s team scored an amazing 10 second-half, stoppage-time goals – six game-winners and three equalizers. The club’s nine regular-season goals in second-half stoppage were an MLS record. They had 40 goals after the 60th minute and 22 after the 75th minute in advance of the playoffs, making the surreal look ordinary.
Not prone to overstatement, Yallop recently called the dramatic endings "unbelievable" and dished off the credit.
“We have some really good players, and so it’s great to work with guys that are versatile,” Yallop said. “I think the guys adapt well. They’re a great group of kids that really work hard. I think our fitness is fantastic as well. We’re really fit, and I think that helps.”
The power of the pack was in play from the season’s first whistle to the last – a reflection of Yallop’s charismatic, but disciplined, approach.
“They’ll do anything for this guy,” Kaval said of Yallop’s players. “He’s like a father figure to them. He trusts in people at times when regular folks would probably kick them to the curb. I think he has a long track record of really seeing people’s true capabilities and getting that or even more out of them.
“When you look at the success of Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart, Chris Wondolowski...everyone...he’s all connected to that. Frank got them to believe in themselves and in what we’re trying to do here with the Quakes. It’s just a tremendous accomplishment.”
Yallop’s Earthquakes finished just two points shy of the MLS single-season points record, set by LA Galaxy in 1998 (68 points). With 114 regular-season wins, Yallop is tied for fourth in MLS history with Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear, his former assistant in San Jose.
The Earthquakes improved by 28 points and a league-record 11 wins from its 2011 finish, when they missed the playoffs.
The compelling storylines were plentiful in 2012: the amazing Wondolowski matched Roy Lassiter’s 16-year-old single-season league scoring record with 27 goals and earned his second Budweiser Golden Boot award; Gordon returned from potentially career-ending injuries to score 13 goals; Lenhart, aka “Braveheart,” had 10 goals in his triumphant return from a prolonged absence last season because of family issues; speedy flank players Marvin Chavez and Shea Salinas, along with the slashing Dawkins, were the igniters; central midfielders Sam Cronin and Rafael Baca were the feisty little generals; and outside backs Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour had breakout seasons as bookend All-Star Game starters.
Goalkeeper Jon Bush was the director in the box, and hulking newcomer Victor Bernardez, an internationally tested center back, along with ageless wonder Ramiro Corrales helped make the package complete.
Aging Buck Shaw Stadium, where the team was unbeaten in the regular season, suddenly became a foreboding fortress for visiting teams.
Quakes general manager John Doyle thinks the skeptics missed the boat when it comes to Yallop’s coaching style. He’s all about attack, not retreat.
“Anybody who knows Frank knows he’s not a defensive coach,” Doyle said. “He wants to attack free-flowing. … At the end of the season, they said ‘it’s a rough-and-tumble. They just try to get it, lump it long.’ That’s not Frank, either. Frank wants to play keeping the ball, and there were times this season I thought we kept the ball and our possession was excellent. He also, at times, wants to change things and get it forward as soon as possible and get the ball into the box to score goals.
“And so to label him as a ‘defensive coach’ is completely wrong. He wants to score and play good soccer. Sometimes when you’re not playing well as a team, you end up defending quite a bit and it looks like you’re just trying to defend, but maybe you don’t have the players to attack. Marvin Chavez (13 assists) and Shea Salinas are wide guys...Simon Dawkins...I think they gave us a good way to play. We can beat people with speed. We can beat people with skill. We can get the ball in the box quickly from crosses, and we have the people to finish it off with Wondolowski, Gordon and Lenhart.”
Doyle recalls a meeting with Yallop and Kaval had after the tough 2011 season, in which they started making plans for the new season. They asked Yallop what he wanted to add to the squad.
“He told us, ‘I want to outscore my opponent,’” Doyle recalled. “’I don’t want to leave anything out there. I don’t want to play defensive. I want to have a good defending team, but I want to outscore my opponent.’ I think this year we did that, and it was pretty impressive.”
After Doyle retired from playing in 2000, he got a bird’s-eye view of Yallop’s coaching when he was a television commentator in 2001. Kinnear was on Yallop’s staff, and current LA Galaxy superstar Landon Donovan had joined the team.
“I watched how the players were relaxed,” Doyle said. “I talked to Dominic about what his style was and what the training was like. I was able to witness it first-hand. Just watching Frank work, I was impressed with the way the players respond to the way he coaches and respect him and enjoy playing for him.
"Then, when I first was hired as the G.M. here, the first person on my list was Frank because that’s the type of person I want to deal with players. We didn’t want a disciplinarian-type coach. We wanted a players’ coach.”
And a '"players’ coach" led the Quakes players to some pretty big things in 2012.