The San Jose Earthquakes enter the 2014 MLS regular season brimming with an optimism born of their successful second half of last season. Sure, a tiebreaker kept them out of the postseason, but that near miss has only served to fuel the fire of these Quakes. A test run of the Starting XI against Toluca earlier this week earned a passing grade and served to highlight the talent on display in San Jose.
The arrivals of Clarence Goodson and Jordan Stewart last summer catalyzed a turnaround from a disappointing start to 2013, and the Earthquakes soon gelled into a fierce defensive minded squad that throttled opponents and took its offensive chances well. So impressive was the team’s performance down the stretch that general manager John Doyle and head coach Mark Watson saw little reason to blow the roster up and start from scratch.
“Everyone is really positive heading into the season,” said Watson. “We had a great group to end the season, and we hope to take their confidence into this season. I think our roster is better. We kept most of the team and the changes we made have made us better.”
Those changes include a flurry of foreign player signings, increasing not just the talent on the roster but also the diverse styles of play they bring with them to San Jose. One aspect of the club that Doyle and Watson both conceded needed enhancement was its ability to unlock defenses and vary the point of attack. They spent the offseason addressing that need.
Offseason additions Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi and Yannick Djalo, both with careers spent entirely in Europe, and the inclusion of seasoned MLS veterans Atiba Harris and Khari Stephenson builds up that cadre of creative midfielders that Watson will lean on to provide better service to the Earthquakes forward corps, including main man Chris Wondolowski.
“We have added a lot of talent in this locker room and we are capable of doing great things,” said Wondolowski. “It starts tomorrow.”
Tomorrow is the season opener, a date with Real Salt Lake, the thorn in the Earthquakes side when it comes to home openers three of the past four years. The string of shutout losses suffered to RSL is certainly an outlier for San Jose — since losing at Buck Shaw Stadium to open the 2013 season, the Earthquakes have gone unbeaten over 20 straight games — but the team will want to break their RSL jinx.
Last season’s turnaround was sparked by the revamped defense, and going into 2014 the Earthquakes have added another pair of quality defenders. Via the Re-Entry draft, San Jose selected former New York Red Bull right back Brandon Barklage, and from Germany they signed ex-Bayern Munich defender Andreas Gorlitz. Both players have battled through the preseason to earn a spot in the starting line-up, all the while impressing goalkeeper Jon Busch stationed behind them.
“Every team at the end of preseason knows it has a chance,” said Busch. “We have a very good team, and we have great guys in the locker room. We saw a good balance of older guys and younger guys coming in, so there’s a lot of optimism.”
Along with the established player additions, the Earthquakes welcomed three rookies into the fold. Top of that list is Stanford sensation JJ Koval, the Quakes top draft pick in the MLS SuperDraft. The strong central midfielder saw a lot of action in the preseason spelling Pierazzi and team MVP Sam Cronin, and he made his professional debut as a substitute against Toluca on Tuesday. Koval is joined on the roster by defenders Joe Sofia of UCLA and Ryan Neil of Cal.
30 players on the roster, ready to make 2014 a great season for San Jose. For those that were here last year, the disappointment of missing the playoffs is still present and will provide extra motivation to let that happen again. The many newcomers have blended in nicely and will look to make their fresh start a fantastic finish. Collectively, the 2014 Earthquakes have high hopes of a successful year.
“We know our goal is to make it into the playoffs, that is a must this year,” said Busch, “and we have bigger plans than that. There’s a very confident feeling in that locker room this season.”
2014 San Jose Earthquakes roster changes
Goalkeeper: In — Bryan Meredith. Out — Evan Newton.
Defender: In — Brandon Barklage, Shaun Francis, Andreas Gorlitz, Ryan Neil, Joe Sofia. Out — Nana Attakora, Steven Beitashour, Dan Gargan, Justin Morrow.
Midfielder: In — Yannick Djalo, Atiba Harris, JJ Koval, Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, Khari Stephenson, Tommy Thompson. Out — Jaime Alas, Rafael Baca, Mehdi Ballouchy, Marvin Chavez, Ramiro Corrales, Walter Martinez.
Forward: In — Billy Schuler. Out — Marcus Tracy.