No Offense, Frank and John, but it’s Time for a Change — An Upset Earthquakes Fan Speaks

Posted: October 25, 2011 in mls, soccer
Tags: , , , ,

By Matt Ream

One postseason appearance in four seasons.

124 games in MLS league play with a 36-49-39 (W-L-D) overall record and 0.448 win percentage.

Negative 24 goal difference.

Three 14th place finishes.

No, this isn’t Toronto FC. It’s the San Jose Earthquakes. Over the past four years, the Earthquakes have struggled to come back from the dead. In fact, during that same period of time, Toronto has only a slightly worse record, going 34-50-40 for a 0.440 win percentage and finishing ahead of San Jose twice. Very telling stats.

In those four seasons, San Jose has had few bright spots. Darren Huckerby was an offensive spark until injury forced his retirement in 2009. Chris Wondolowski has led the league in scoring over the last two year period, culminating in a remarkable playoff upset over New York. But that’s about it.

So why is San Jose so bad?

Let’s go back in time. In 2005, after winning the Supporter’s Shield, San Jose continued its dominance in MLS with two MLS Cup titles, one Supporter’s Shield and three Western Conference Championships.

The only problem for San Jose fans – the team was now based in Houston and called the Dynamo. All that history – two MLS Cups and a Supporter’s shield – left to rot in a storage unit somewhere in Silicon Valley.

After two seasons on hiatus, MLS decided to bring back the storied franchise – with a subpar product on the field. The 2008 season finished with San Jose tied for last in the league with an identical record as the Los Angeles Galaxy – dead last if you consider just about any MLS tie breaking procedures.

The difference between the two rival teams? The Galaxy has not looked back, finishing first in the West each subsequent year and winning the Supporter’s Shield in the last two years.

We could sit here and blame Anschutz Entertainment Group (the ownership group who presided over the ill-fated move to Houston) or Major League Soccer. Or we could move on and start looking at other factors.

Let’s start with John Doyle. A great player in his day, Doyle followed up a short European career with a five year stint as a starting center back for the Earthquakes from 1996-2000 – when they only made the playoffs once. Despite his somewhat unsuccessful club career, he managed 53 international appearances for the United States, even scoring three goals.

However, Doyle is living proof that good players are not always successful in soccer off the field. He’s a great person (I know because I’ve met him), but his personnel decisions are questionable. Players like Cornell Glen, Ramiro Corrales, Scott Sealy, Alan Gordon and Geovanni come to mind as some of the higher profile signings in the past few years, but what have they given us? One could argue that Corrales has played well for San Jose in his 89 appearances, but his lack of pace and questionable passing has been a problem. And he’s not getting any younger. Yet somehow, he seems to always make his way into the starting lineup.

One good decision Doyle has made has been to not pick up the option on Bobby Convey’s contract. Despite a team leading 11 assists in 2010, Convey’s play has been erratic and his unwillingness to play left back (his best position, in my mind) has gotten old. He also has the highest salary on the team, which could be used for two younger players with more upside.

On to Frank Yallop. Also a good player in his day, Yallop played the majority of his career in England before coming back to the continent to play for the defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny. Also a defender, he represented Canada at the international level 52 times.

Unlike Doyle, Yallop has been relatively successful as a coach. He presided over both of San Jose’s MLS Cup wins – making the brilliant tactical move to insert golden goal scorer Dwayne De Rosario in the 2001 final and picking up Pat Onstad prior to the 2003 season, who made a crucial penalty save in the 2003 final.

But his career and his coaching ability has seemingly been on the decline since his departure from San Jose to lead the Canadian National Team. He was named coach of the LA Galaxy shortly before David Beckham came to the team, but his inability to manage such a high profile team as well as poor results led to his resignation, just in time for expansion side San Jose to buy out the remainder of his contract from the Galaxy, hoping to capitalize on his past record with the team.

Tactically, this team has not been sophisticated. San Jose very often relies on physical play and long balls to generate attacking chances. Even during the 2010 season and playoff appearance, the ‘quakes were far too reliant on the crossing of Convey and the late far post runs from Wondolowski. Players like Khari Stephenson and Sam Cronin, who tend to play a more possession oriented game, are outweighed by their teammates, who don’t possess the skill or vision to play the same way. Yallop has his favorite players – the problem is that they are not very good players. Yallop cannot take this team any further without a tactical change, as the more successful teams in the league have evolved to play a less direct but more effective style of play.

Furthermore, the lack of proven goal scorers besides Wondolowski has hindered San Jose during the past two seasons. Fourteen games ended in ties this season – four more goals in four of those ties and the Earthquakes would be playing FC Dallas in the wild card round of the playoffs. Incidentally, San Jose beat Dallas 4-2 in the last game of the season. Too little, too late.

So how does San Jose solve this problem? Obviously the last four years have not been approached with much thought. In 2006, Sigi Schmid began work as the Columbus Crew’s head coach after having been fired as the then first place Galaxy’s head coach. The Crew at that time had some talented, young players, but little depth and few established veterans. Despite a last place finish in the Eastern Conference in 2006, Schmid managed to rebuild the team to his liking over the next two years, which culminated with the team winning the 2008 MLS Cup.

Clearly Schmid has a vision when he started the job. His track record is proof of his ability to coach and proof of the ability of management to influence a team. He has been successful with three different MLS teams – LA Galaxy, Columbus and the Seattle Sounders. His ability to compose a team with draft picks, trades, and existing parts is remarkable. He shows no unreasonable favoritism toward players – even cutting veterans when needed and benching star players.

Yallop and Doyle, on the other hand, have done no such thing in San Jose. Four years is enough time to learn that. Now it’s time for a change. Let’s find a coach and general manager who are willing to make the tough decisions to benefit the team.

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