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Three Questions: Sounders vs Earthquakes

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Oz from Center Line Soccer stopped by for a lovely chat

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Sounder at Heart: Despite the recent run of poor results, it’s been an overall positive season for the Earthquakes. What’s been the keys to success? Has it been as simple as having Matías Almeyda in charge?

Center Line Soccer: Matias Almeyda has been a critical figure in the Quakes’ resurgence. I think even he would agree that giving him all the credit would be disrespectful to all the other people in the organization that have a hand in changing their fortunes. As much as this might make some Quakes fans cringe, GM Jesse Fioranelli gets some of the credit for signing Almeyda.

The turnaround would not have happened without the players buying into Almeyda’s system, which every single player has done. Tommy Thompson was asked to transition from an offensive-minded winger to a defender which confused a lot of people early in the season, but Tommy has performed well enough in that position to be a regular starter. Jackson Yueill went from a kind of alright midfielder to getting regular call-ups to the men’s national team. Vako went from giving up on most plays last season to leading the league in successful dribbles per match.

I could go on about each player and how they have contributed to the turnaround, but I will be kind to your readers and talk about what I feel is the most crucial player acquisition of the offseason, Cristian Espinoza. His two goals and nine assists don’t immediately stand out, but he is easily the team MVP this season. The Quakes are 0-5-1 in matches he didn’t participate, and the offense struggles to get the ball in positions to score.

SAH: Chris Wondolowski is a man that can’t stop scoring. Will Wondo keep scoring next season or do you think he’s going to hang up his boots after 2019?

CLS: At the beginning of the season when the Quakes were struggling to find chemistry and Wondo was chasing the all-time goal-scoring record, with no success, I described him as an old soldier who was fading away. Since then he has scored 14 goals and is having one of the most productive seasons of his career (on a per minute basis). That makes me think my guess will be completely wrong.

I do know that before he went to Chico State to play soccer, he turned down a scholarship to UCLA where he would have competed in the 10,000-meter race for the Bruins. I doubt that 90 minutes of soccer will ever wear out the old man, but at the pace, this league is changing his unique style of goal scoring may not be as effective moving forward.

If I was forced to make a guess I would bet on Wondo being in black-and-blue for at least one more season.

SAH: If the Earthquakes fail to make the playoffs, will that be seen as a failure? Has enough positive changes happened this season? Where do the Quakes go from here?

CLS: I’m sure some people around San Jose would see this late-season collapse and think “same old Quakes” and write this season off as a failure, but they are wrong. For years this team depended on creating chaos during “Goonie time” to squeak out some positive results. Lineup changes were made without any thought, and there was no strategy tailored to that week’s opponent. This season there is a definite strategy and consistent style of play. Whether they are winning or losing the Quakes, stick to their gameplan, and when Almeyda makes substitutions, they are well thought out.

One season is not enough time to completely change the culture around the team. If Almeyda were to leave for another club next season, I don’t know if the Quakes could bring anyone in to keep this momentum going. They would have to start from the ground up, and Fioranelli would have to catch lightning in a bottle again.

What the Quakes need to do now is find a way to sign Cristian Espinoza permanently or find a suitable replacement as it is evident that Almeyda’s system does not work as intended without a player of his skill level. This is going to be the first offseason that Fioranelli and Almeyda have together which will allow them to bring in players that can push the Quakes farther next season.