This is the third in a series of posts about the MLS teams that did not make the playoffs.
The San Jose Earthquakes. The expansion team that almost did it, the Earthquakes were knocking on the door of the playoffs after a spectacular late summer run. From July 12 to September 20, the Earthquakes did not lose a game in MLS play, going 5-0-5 in the 10 league matches during that time. The Earthquakes, playing under a coach who was flatly rejected by the "Super Club" that is the L.A. Galaxy--Frank Yallop--who is having the last laugh now. The only reason why San Jose finsihed below L.A. in the Western Conference is because of their head to head match ups. In the rest of the soccer world, San Jose would have finished above L.A. due to a better goal difference. San Jose is a -6 and L.A. a -7 goal difference.
San Jose, the team who was ranked fourth in the league for the fewest goals allowed (38). Only Houston (32), Chicago (33) and Columbus (36) allowed fewer goals that San Jose.
San Jose, where Frank Yallop made some spectacular mid-season acquitisions, almost go the job done. While I am a dedicated DC United fan, I have to tell you I was rooting for the 'Quakes during their run. Hats off to them since expansion teams are almost always the whipping boys.
So, a debut season (sort of), what can and should we expect from the Quakes 2.0 in year 2.0? The standouts.
Frank Yallop. Say what you want about Sigi Schmidt or Dommick Kinnear, for my money, Yallop is Manager of the Year. He took a team that just about everyone pegged to end up with something like 20 points and had them knocking on the door of the playoffs. Had the Quakes won two of their last three, against Chivas, Houston and Kansas City, we would be seeing the Quakes in the playoffs and not New York. That is now close it was. The man responsible for that is Frank Yallop.
Darren Huckerby. The best Englishman playing in the MLS. Huckerby is the definition of "impact signing." Huckerby came in mid-season and in just 14 games, lead the 'Quakes in scoring (6 goals) and was second in assists (4) only to Ronnie O'Brien who had six assists. Most foriegn players take a while to settle in the MLS (See Guillermo Barros Schelotto in 2007) before making an impact. Huckerby came, threw the 'Quakes on his shoulders and carried the team. That is impact. Huckerby is, hands down, my Newcomer of the Year.
Joe Cannon. What the hell were L.A. thinking when they let Cannon go in favor of Steve Cronin. I bet that Bruce Arena would have done everything but sacrifice Landon Donovan, Beckham or Edson Buddle to get Cannon back. Cannon played in every game for the 'Quakes, and tallied an impressive 1.27 Goals against average and nine shutouts. For a team with just 8 wins, that is a pretty impressive season long performance. Only four MLS keepers had a better GAA, Hoston's Pat Onstad (24 games, 1.03 GAA), Chicago's Jon Busch (30 Games, 1.10 GAA), Columbus' Will Hesmer (29 games, 1.14 GAA), and Colorado's Buona Coundoul (17 Games, 1.24 GAA). Only Colorado is not in the playoffs.
Ronnie O'Brien. Another quality player who carried this club for the first half of the season. Bobming up and down the right flank like he was ten years younger than he is, O'Brien made the most consistent contribution to the club all season long. He may only have one, maybe two years left in his playing career, but he will continue to be a role-model for the Quakes.
So what does San Jose need to do for next season. Yallop did a very good job trading around and making moves to bring in players during the July Transfer Window to address his immediate needs--goal scoring.
Defensively there is not much to argue with here. They could use a little more speed on the flanks, but I don't think that it is a vital need. Ramiro Corrales, when healthy, is a quality left back. I think Yallop found some good defenders who did their job well. Yallop had the organzied, compact and effective. I wouldn't make a lot of changes here.
Offensively, I think San Jose still needs some help. I don't think Scott Sealy is the type of target striker that San Jose needs. Sealy is a fair player, but doesn't command the middle of the park like he needs to in order to accept the service of Huckerby and O'Brien.
What I think San Jose really needs is a field general; someone who provides a link between O'Brien and Huckerby, who can control the ball and dictate the pace. I wouldn't go for a DP signing in this place as I don't think it worth that. San Jose doens't need a Marcello Gallardo or Schelotto. They need a leader, yes, but they don't need an overwhelming presence, which is within Yallops budget.
I would expect Yallop to acquire some more central midfielders and some additional flank players (Huckerby and O'Brien don't have a ton of years left in the tank). But I think what Yallop will want to do is exhibit some patience, I think the San Jose fans will give him that, so long as they don't hit a massive sophomore slump.