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FEATURE: Five reasons to be excited for the 2020 Season

The San Jose Earthquakes open their 2020 regular season at Earthquakes Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 29 against Toronto FC (2:15 p.m.; NBC Sports Bay Area). Here are five reasons to be excited for the 2020 season:

Chris Wondolowski’s final season

Major League Soccer’s most lethal striker will hang up his boots for the final time following the 2020 season. He currently holds the league record for goals (159), game-winning goals (44), goals for one club (155) and consecutive seasons with 10+ goals (10), among many others. One thing to note, this isn’t simply a victory lap for a player that should have retired years ago. Wondolowski led the team with 15 goals in 2019 and finished near the top of the endurance tests during recent offseason workouts.

Continued development of Jackson Yueill and Cristian Espinoza

No two players will be as important to the success of the Quakes as 22-year-old Jackson Yueill and 24-year-old Cristian Espinoza. Yueill has seen his stock soar like few others in MLS, going from highly touted prospect to full national team starter in the blink of an eye. He has proven an inaccuracy in many perceived ‘flaws’ by national pundits, such as physicality and defensive work rate, and should be regarded as not only of the league’s best under-23 players, but best players overall. Espinoza arrived last year as a former top prospect desperate for playing time. He found that and more in 2019, where he became a household name. Espinoza’s 13 assists last year were among the league leaders and he’ll almost certainly contribute more goals in 2020.

Second year under Matias Almeyda

Head coach Matias Almeyda is revered for a reason. The Argentine has had success everywhere he’s gone, including stints with some of the biggest clubs in Argentina and Mexico. His system, while seemingly simple man-marking, requires a complex and deep level of understanding to execute. He explained earlier this week to media that the ability to limit roster turnover would be key to success and he retains more than 90% of his minutes from last year.

Arrival of Mexican defender Oswaldo Alanís

The arrival of Mexico National Team defender Oswaldo Alanís should do wonders for San Jose’s backline. An experienced and intelligent player, he gives the Quakes a left-footed center back for the first time since Andres Imperiale. His presence should also lift teammates Guram Kashia and Florian Jungwirth, two talented players in their own right, as all three fight for playing time. Keep an eye out for Alanís’ distribution from the back as his ability to hit the long ball might be unrivaled in San Jose.

Young Homegrowns coming of age

The concern with signing 14- and 15-year-old players is that they aren’t expected to contribute right away but playing the slow game with their development could be beneficial long-term. Both Gilbert Fuentes and Jacob Akanyirige recently turned 18 and are now heading into their third seasons as professionals. Cade Cowell, now 16, has a full year under his belt. Goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski continues to make headway with the senior U.S. National Team and U.S. U-23s and will likely be the successor to Daniel Vega. These young players, and others, will continue to develop and Quakes fans could see the club’s effort paying dividends in the not-too-distant future.

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