The San Jose Earthquakes improved by seven wins from 2014 to 2015 in large part because of their defensive prowess. The club allowed 39 total goals last season, tied for third fewest in Major League Soccer with 18-win FC Dallas and the MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers, proving just how vital a strong backline is to overall success.
San Jose allowed 1.15 goals per game in 2015, the fifth lowest average in club history and the lowest since 2010 (1.10). The team’s 12 shutouts ranked fourth in MLS and their shutout streak spanning 448 minutes from August 8 to September 5 was the longest in the league that season.
So is there any chance the defense could be even better in 2016?
“If we remain healthy and focused, there’s a good possibility of that happening,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear.
The team has held onto its five most oft-used defenders from a season ago – left backs Shaun Francis and Jordan Stewart, center backs Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez and right back Marvell Wynne. The Quakes also return goalkeeper David Bingham, who made his U.S. National Team debut in a 1-0 win over Canada, earning his first appearance, start, win and shutout simultaneously for the red, white and blue.
“I think it gave me a head start,” said Bingham. “It gave me a couple extra weeks to get fit and sharp before the season starts. I think you can go in there and learn things from the coaches and the other players that we can use here.”
San Jose hasn’t settled for the same recipe that helped them allow just 11 goals in 15 matches at Avaya Stadium last season, but continue to bolster the defensive side of the ball. The signings of Andres Imperiale – a tall, experienced Argentinian defenseman capable of playing center back or left back – and fleet-footed fullback Kip Colvey, whom the team selected with their third round SuperDraft pick, gives head coach Dominic Kinnear more versatility and rotation options. Young center back Matheus Silva, who recently turned 19, also now has a year of professional experience under his belt should his name be called.
“I think we have more depth than at any point since I’ve been here,” said Goodson. “I think there are a lot of good young guys coming up. I think we have a lot of good veterans that have been around the league, around the world.”
Goodson is coming off a tremendous season in which he made 28 starts, tying a career high set back in 2005, and commanded consideration for the MLS Comeback Player of the Year Award. He anchored the middle of the Earthquakes back line all season long and added two goals and two assists for good measure. He will certainly be asked to be a leader for the team once again.
“Coming off a year where I was injured, it was important for me to prove to myself that I can still play, still be healthy and still contribute. I felt like last year was probably the best year of my professional career. ”
Possibly the most unheralded member of the team’s defense is right back Marvell Wynne. No name was penciled into the Quakes’ lineup more than Wynne, who led the club in appearances (33), starts (32) and minutes (2,762). He has a championship pedigree, helping Colorado lift their first and only MLS Cup trophy in 2010, and has rock-solid durability, making at least 27 starts in each of the last six seasons.
“Trying to remain fit has been quite the evolution,” explained Wynne. “Early on when I first started playing, I wanted to rest a lot, make sure I was fresh for every game and every training. It’s even more so now. As I’m in my late 20s, I realize I have to prepare more before every practice.
“I had a lot of starts last year, played in a lot of games, so I’m looking to maintain that and continue into 2016.”
San Jose will also get a full season of defensive midfielder Anibal Godoy, who led the club to a 6-1-3 record in his 10 appearances after signing with the team midseason. In addition, the Quakes have defensive midfielder Fatai Alashe, who is coming off a remarkable first season in the league. Alashe, 22, finished second in voting for the MLS Rookie of the Year Award last season.
The Earthquakes have the pieces to remain at the top of the defensive leaderboard in 2016.