The San Jose Earthquakes officially kick off their 2021 Major League Soccer season on Friday, April 16 at Houston Dynamo FC. The Quakes will then return to San Jose for their home opener – with fans! – on Saturday, April 24.
The 2021 season is sure to be a fascinating one. With an unbelievably long offseason, COVID precautions limiting preseason travel, fans returning to venues nationwide, and plenty of new faces (and teams) in the league, there will almost certainly be a lot of ups and downs to keep fans on the edge of their seats.
With the season opener just days away, let’s pose a few questions for the Quakes:
1. Which newcomer makes the biggest impact?
San Jose didn’t make a ton of moves in the offseason but added a few pieces that could prove to be difference makers. Eduardo Lopez, aka Chofis, is the odds-on favorite to win the No. 10 role for the club and be an integral part of San Jose’s attack. If preseason was any indication, Chofis has a brilliant left foot and the type of technical skill that’s uncommon in MLS today.
Asi se hace Chofis! pic.twitter.com/TEUYXLKroV— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) April 9, 2021
Who will start at right back between Tommy Thompson and newcomer Luciano ‘Lucho’ Abecasis is unknown at this time, but the Argentine has impressed in limited time with the team. He not only showed good defensive work, but also class ability in the attacking third.
This is just beautiful.— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) April 9, 2021
Lucho Fierro pic.twitter.com/CHBRyluDCl
Additionally, you can’t count out defensive midfielder Eric Remedi, who will assuredly play an important role for San Jose this season. His acquisition was one of those under-the-radar moves that could pay dividends for the Quakes all year long.
2. Can Cristian Espinoza take another step towards becoming part of MLS’s elite?
Here’s a comprehensive list of MLS players who finished top-6 in assists in both 2019 and 2020:
The winger is without question one of the most dangerous players in North America and is in the prime of his career at 26 years old. However, he’s largely overlooked in the MVP category because his goal tally has paled in comparison to those like Alejandro Pozuelo, Nico Lodeiro, etc.
What’s not good news for the rest of the league is that Espinoza is primed to explode offensively in 2021. He scored five goals across the last two seasons but also hit the woodwork a league-high five times during the run of play. He scored just two goals in his first 34 MLS appearances but has since scored three in his last 19. He also scored a wondergoal vs. Sac Republic in the preseason.
3. What does Chris Wondolowski have left in the tank?
Chris Wondolowski is an ageless wonder. At 38 years old, he shouldn’t still be competing at a high level and yet here is he as a devastating striker that continues to drive defenses crazy.
He had his double-digit scoring streak snapped in 2020 (thanks, COVID) but still scored seven goals in roughly 2/3 of a normal season. He is still winning preseason fitness tests and his style of play is proving effective whether you think he has lost anything to age or not.
Can he reach 10 goals again this year? I dare you to tell him he can’t.
4. What’s next for Cade Cowell?
The Quakes’ 17-year-old possesses an unprecedented level of speed and strength. He went from training player in 2019 to oft-used substitute with his moments of brilliance in 2020. Now in his third year, he seems ready to make the jump to key offensive contributor.
Cowell’s freak athleticism and head-turning work ethic has got him to where he is today, but it’s willingness to learn from elder players that will get him where he wants to be tomorrow. He admits there were some chances in 2020 he should have finished, but at 16, it’s more than understandable. If his 2021 preseason counts for much – four goals in two games – the league should be on high alert. It remains to be seen if Cowell will start (and if so, where?), or if he is will continue to provide lighting in a bottle off the bench.
5. Can JT Marcinkowski emerge as a top-5 goalkeeper in MLS?
Everybody knows it’s Jackson Yueill that pulls the strings for San Jose in the middle of the park, but his counterpart on the U.S. U-23s, goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski, may prove just as important to the team’s success in 2021.
Marcinkowski, 23, is one of the youngest starting goalkeepers in MLS today. He was given a chance midseason in 2020 and made sure to make the most of it, starting each of the team’s last 11 regular season matches and earning a 6-3-2 record en route to a playoff berth.
Marcinkowski is already on the shortlist of U.S. National Team keepers and should have a long, long career ahead of him, but it’s reasonable to think his name could appear alongside the best of the best in MLS sooner rather than later.
Friday’s match in Houston kicks off at 5 p.m. PT and will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Bay Area Plus, KNBR 1050 and 1370 KZSF.