San Jose relies on revamped structure in the middle of its evolution
Change continues to sweep through San Jose. New coach. New kits. New stadium under construction. New way of approaching business. The alterations display a commitment to evolution as the Earthquakes plan for the future and plot for their return to the top of the Western Conference.
The brief extends to the style of play on the field, too. Earthquakes coach Mark Watson implemented a series of changes to strengthen the defensive foundation when he took interim charge in June. The emphasis quickly shifted toward retaining the proper shape and stopping the opposition from playing easily.
It took a while for the changes to take hold, but the arrival of Clarence Goodson in August bolstered the efforts considerably. San Jose displayed substantial improvement at the back in the final two months of the campaign. Opponents scored just twice in seven matches as the Earthquakes staged a late dash for the postseason.
Those efforts fell short, but the Earthquakes secured a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals along the way. Watson earned a shot at the full-time gig after producing a significant uptick in results. And the Earthquakes discovered a revised identity in the process.
“You can expect San Jose to be the team you saw toward the end of the season last year: difficult to play against,” Goodson said during the annual MLS media and marketing tour earlier this week.
Most teams encountered difficulty when confronted with Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski in the final third. The objective now involves extending the discomfort from back to front. The revamped mindset requires more emphasis on structure and less reliance on Wondolowski and company to pull the Earthquakes out of the fire with a dramatic late winner or equalizer.
Consider the shift a rather pragmatic nod to the need for more solidity. San Jose thrived during the latter stages of the campaign through defiance, not heroics. It is a platform this side can build upon as it prepares to pursue a return to the postseason in the competitive and crowded Western Conference picture.
“Hopefully, we're no longer a team that's going to rely on scoring 72 goals or whatever it was to try and win the Supporters' Shield,” Goodson said. “We're a team that's going to try to be very, very difficult to score against and have a lot a structure to us. Hopefully, we'll have one goal stand up and win us some games. If we can do what we did the last half of the season over the whole year, we'll be one of the best teams in MLS.”
Goodson will work with a reconfigured defensive group to achieve that particularly objective. Three of the four starters – central defenders Goodson and Victor Bernárdez and left back Jordan Stewart – return, but fullbacks Steven Beitashour (Vancouver) and Justin Morrow (Toronto FC) departed via trade during the winter. Brandon Barklage and Shaun Francis arrived to bolster the options in that department, while trialist Andreas Görlitz hopes to win a contract to compete for time on the right side. The signing of French midfielder Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi from AC Ajaccio provided further protection in front of the back four, too.
Even with the personnel changes injecting some uncertainty into the rearguard, the primary underpinnings from the successful run last year remain in place. The blueprints are installed. The directive is clear. The structure is solid. And the team is ready to march forward in the hopes the next substantive switch involves a return to the postseason.