The 2017 Major League Soccer season is rapidly approaching. All teams are level, spirits are high and confidence can be found within every club. MLS has truly separated itself from other sports leagues by introducing a level of parity previously unseen in comparable competitions. Any team can win MLS Cup in any year, and that’s not an exaggeration.
The San Jose Earthquakes organization is optimistic, and the passionate fans that have filled Avaya Stadium for the past two years should be as well. The combination of a new well-connected and knowledgeable general manager in Jesse Fioranelli, a technical director in Chris Leitch that is an expert in league roster rules and guidelines, and an experienced and proven head coach in Dominic Kinnear have the Quakes thinking big in 2017.
While the GM search was being conducted in late 2016, Leitch and Kinnear were busy scouting and preparing the roster for the upcoming season. Fioranelli’s arrival in early January has only expanded the team’s outreach and the combination of minds has led to a series of inspiring roster decisions.
The first move of the offseason was to decide which players no longer under contract should remain with the club heading into 2017. The forward position received a complete overhaul. Innocent, Mark Sherrod, Henok Goitom, Chad Barrett and Steven Lenhart – five of the team’s seven forwards in 2016 – were not retained. Veteran defenders Clarence Goodson and Jordan Stewart also both departed the club, as well as third keeper Bryan Meredith who was scooped up by Seattle in the Re-Entry Draft. Winger Alberto Quintero, one of the beloved #Panamaniacs, also exited the organization upon the expiration of his loan deal from Lobos BUAP and is now plying his trade in Peru.
The first move that sent tremors throughout the Bay Area was the signing of Homegrown defender Nick Lima. Lima, 22, played in the Quakes Academy, on the club’s PDL affiliate Burlingame Dragons FC, and trained extensively with the first team. Calen Carr of MLS said he believed Lima would have been top-five pick in the 2017 SuperDraft, so his development as a professional could be one to watch.
San Jose then signed 24-year-old center back Harold Cummings. Cummings, a regular starter for the Panama National Team, is known for his aggressiveness, speed and composure on the ball. His combination of youthfulness and experience makes him a rare commodity in the sport today.
The Quakes drafted four players in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. Jackson Yueill was the first player selected by San Jose--No. 6 overall. A member of Generation adidas, Yueill was one of the youngest players in the draft class at only 19 years old. After the conclusion of the draft, Matthew Doyle of MLS (@MLSAnalyst) tweeted that Yueill is the “best true CM to come through the draft at least since Powers, but more upside”. Dillon Powers was selected 11th overall by Colorado in 2013 and wound up winning the MLS Rookie of the Year Award.
The Earthquakes draft class was completed with fleet-footed midfielder Lindo Mfeka (South Florida), goal-scoring forward Christian Thierjung (Cal) and tall, athletic goalkeeper Auden Schilder (Washington). The trio will have to earn their way onto the roster much the same way Kip Colvey did one season ago.
The Quakes then rounded out the roster with four international signings – Costa Rican forward Marcos Ureña, Dutch forward Danny Hoesen, Albanian midfielder Jahmir Hyka and German defenseman Florian Jungwirth. The remarkable thing about these signings is that all four possess international experience, are currently under 30 years of age and do not occupy a single Designated Player slot. The moves not only boost the squad in terms of talent, depth and versatility, but also do not hamper any flexibility during the summer transfer window.
“What we’re really happy about is that all of the work we’ve put into scouting these players has led to a custom fit suit for the team so that we have high-quality options at every position,” explained Fioranelli. “We now have younger, more dynamic players. We chose not to have one player occupy most of our investment, but rather acquire several players that we’re all very excited about. This leaves us a very important opportunity in the summer when there will be more alternatives and more signing opportunities.”
Ages of players not retained from 2016 (avg.: 30.13):
Ages of players signed for 2017 (avg.: 24.71):