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Offseason on the Brink: 3 Questions for San Jose

This time last year, the San Jose Earthquakes were riding high.  They had upset the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference playoffs and had seen the emergence of Chris Wondolowski as a bona fide goal scorer.  Although the team had definite weaknesses and was not at the level of, say, Real Salt Lake, this was certainly a team that could be a playoff contender.

The outlook could not be more different this year as opposed to last.  Wondo is still a goal scorer, tying Dwayne De Rosario for most goals scored this season, but his goals came in bunches and he was not a consistent threat.  There are question marks throughout the roster including whether the head coach will last through the upcoming season.  This is a team in flux, and if they fail to seriously contend for the playoffs this season we could see a massive roster overhaul this time next year (which arguably is a good thing).

Let’s limit ourselves to the key three questions that will tip the balance on San Jose’s 2012 season:

1. What is the status of Steven Lenhart?

We know he is signed.  He was a critical scoring option for the team last season, partnering well with Wondo to provide a second up-front scoring option for a team that at times desperately needed goals.  But the death of his father took him away from the game for an extended period of time, which coincided with their funk.

I personally will never judge someone for how they deal with the death of a parent, so I will simply say how he is mentally and physically fit for 2012 will be important for this team.  To be blunt, absent signing a big money striker, this team will fail without him.  As many goals as Wondo scores, he is inconsistent and cannot be relied upon to lead a team’s offense if that team is competing for a high-seed in the playoffs.  Lenhart is the perfect partner for him, and San Jose knows this.

2. Can the ‘Quakes run their way into the playoffs?

To address some of their issues from this past season, Frank Yallop is rebuilding his midfield around speed.  And not since Keanu Reeves tried to drive a bus has such a desire for going fast been so confusing.  San Jose made a great trade to bring Marvin Chavez over from Dallas but also this offseason they acquired Jean Alexandre from Real Salt Lake.  Alexandre has been a backup at RSL but has shown some flashes of being a productive midfielder if he gets regular playing time.  Undoubtedly Chavez is a great pickup but time will tell if Alexandre and their additional acquisitions this offseason can make them a faster team that can quickly get the ball up front to Wondo and Lenhart.

Looking at their depth as a whole, however, you wonder if these moves make sense.  In addition to the two players mentioned, the ‘Quakes have also picked up Shea Salinas while re-signing Khari Stephenson.  Looking at the current roster, it is composed of players who would be good depth players on a MLS Cup contender, not ones that can be counted on to drive a team to the Cup.  Maybe the new speed will change this.

3. Can the ‘Quakes count on Ike Opara?

The injured Opara was symbolic of the San Jose defense last season: underachieving and made worse by the loss of Brandon McDonald via trade to DC.  The once rising U.S. star was not even invited to Caleb Porter’s U-23 camp this offseason as he continues to recover from injury.  He was named an “honorable mention” for the MLS “24 under 24” list but this could be a make or break season for him.  If he stays healthy and helps solidify a bad SJ defense, he will be back on track to be the next U.S. up-and-coming defender.  More injuries or sporadic play and we could be lamenting “what if”.

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  1. Steven Langlands

    January 18, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    When are we going to get our own stadium?

  2. markmcf

    December 27, 2011 at 2:37 am

    Robert – Great stuff here. I expect Lenhart to come back strong.
    He’s a leave it all on the field kind of guy, and he’s still young.
    I agree with your concerns (and Das Moots’) on points 2 & 3.
    The Quakes have lacked speed, so adding speed is good. But, the
    Quakes lack dominant players too, and we haven’t signed any. We’ve
    got a lot of players who are “good enough,” but no game changers.
    Well, maybe Wondo, but Wondo needs service. And as Das Moots points
    out, if we can’t get Dawkins back, we’ll be starting Salinas at
    left mid. Not that I dislike Shea, but he’s best as a right mid.
    And we can’t count on Ike, at least, not until he’s gone a full
    season without a serious injury. And the whole team lacked fitness
    last season! And we played too much long-ball. And we couldn’t
    figure out how to break down a ten-man side. And … I could go on.
    There was a lot wrong with the 2010 Quakes. So I’d like to add to
    Das Moots’ list of things we should have done, that we should have
    hired a new coach.

  3. DasMoots

    December 21, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    great op-ed not the usual spin you get from the club and beat
    reports who follow the team as they need to stay in good graces to
    keep the interviews flowing. i agree that everything soccer
    operations does in sj is disjointed. resigning lenhart is great.
    picking up chavez is great. picking up salinas is good. so kudos
    there. losing convey is bad. not signing a center midfielder who
    can attack/distribute is bad. signing alexander who plays defensive
    mid which is a position that is aready 2 deep (ring & cronin)
    is bad. signing two right mids (chavez & salinas) when we need
    to replace convey and possibly dawkins on the left is bad. wasting
    tons of time on dawkins who IMO is overrated and hoping he comes
    back instead of finding a left mid is bad. hoping that tottenham
    throws the team another couple of young aka CHEAP players on loan
    is bad. the FO talked big about spending money this offseason and
    we aren’t seeing it, chavez comes in at what $60K, a lenhart raise
    of maybe another $40K, salinas at $50Kish and alexander at what
    $42K. the league is leaving this team behind…time to wake up SJ.

  4. Charles

    December 21, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    I think a team that San Jose gets messed up with the changing of
    the playoffs. Timbers too. They are right there with the
    boarderline playoff teams in the East, but ( depending on how the
    teams shape up after the off-season ) not able to hang with the
    monsters of the West.

  5. Alan

    December 21, 2011 at 10:55 am

    I think if everyone stays healthy, they will be good at scoring
    goals when needed. My concern is their holes in their defense. Even
    with a healthy Opara, they still need to fill these holes and maybe
    continue strengthening their midfield.

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