Editorial (October 9, 2018)- With the hiring of Matias Almeyda, many have praised the San Jose Earthquakes for stepping out and finally grabbing a big fish, arguably one of the biggest coaching fishes in MLS. And while the coaching hire is nice, more work is still needed to turn them around.
Earthquakes Finally Signal Intent
Matias Almeyda’s resumé is stronger than all but a handful managers in MLS. His track record not only as a player, but as a manager speaks volumes, and frankly is far beyond the Earthquakes situation. But he clearly feels there is a project at hand, and that’s been the majority of his coaching career.
Almeyda: “I didn’t come here for six months. I came here to be a part of a (long-term) project.”
“No vine por seis meses. Vine a ser parte de un proyecto.”
— Joel Soria (@soriajoelfutbol) October 8, 2018
The quote here from Almeyda speaks volumes about the type of job he wants. He took on River Plate after they had been relegated for the first time in their illustrious history, and within two years he had them back up. He took a Banfield side that had once been a power in Argentina as well, and had them promoted in his first year. And if you don’t know about his work with Chivas, he won four trophies in a three year span, just a few years removed from their own promotion with Almeyda at hand.
If MLS had promotion and relegation, the Earthquakes would likely be wallowing in the USL, and be one of those “bounce between” clubs like a QPR or a Crystal Palace. We won’t go down the rabbit hole of pro-rel, but frankly, the Earthquakes situation when it comes to soccer is dire.
A once revered opponent in the early 2000s, the days of ambition and success are long gone. Almeyda’s hire finally signals that change. The Earthquakes of those early 2000s possessed mocse, and no fear of any opponent. It’s something that has been lost ever since, save one year of 2012.
One could honestly argue that this has been the most ambitious move the Earthquakes have made since the ownership group purchased the franchise rights to initiate the rebirth. However, one move like acquiring Matias Almeyda won’t be the end all be all. If the Quakes are to really act on their ambition, they need to do it with their player acquisition, scouting, and talent I.D.
The San Jose Earthquakes haven’t had a game changing star since Landon Donovan left the team, failed at Bayern Munich and eventually re-signed in Los Angeles. Yes, it’s been that long, and no Chris Wondolowski isn’t a game changer. ‘Quakes fans might take umbrage with me for saying this, but Wondo has never been, nor will he ever be, a complete game changing talent. That’s not his quality. Great leader and consistent scorer? Of course. But Wondo never took over a game like Landon could.
The Earthquakes made an investment in a couple players this offseason, who frankly haven’t been worth the price tag. That type of mistake has to stop. They have one of the more talent rich areas to scout from in the nation, and they have one HG player who has eclipsed 1000 minutes, and only one more who actually has a shot of reaching 500 minutes this year.
A recent article in the Los Angeles Times highlighted how in Salinas, CA is one of the most undermined prospect pools by the USSF, and it’s losing some of its best prospects there to Mexico, within its own borders. The Earthquakes have been mining that area of the Central Coast pretty well now, and sooner or later it will start yielding results. But for now we have to wait, and there is no telling what direction their new Academy Director (whenever he’s hired) will go.
Ambition doesn’t just come with going out and getting one of the biggest managerial candidates in the Americas. It doesn’t just mean paying a lot of money to a manager. It means spending in all facets of the club. John Fischer and his ownership group, known for penny pinching with the Oakland A’s and trying to develop a winner as cheaply as possible, will need to push more capital into the club to really make a difference.
Soccer isn’t like baseball where you can just go draft the best prospects available when your team is bad. You have to spend, in all facets of the club to be successful. You can spend efficiently, but you still have to spend. If he wants to turn the ‘Quakes into a winner more ambition should be shown beyond the Almeyda appointment. If they don’t? I’ll be interested to see who they trot out as the manager for 2020.
Ultimately MLS is growing at an exponential rate. Every year there are new teams, and the player pool deepens. Each remaining team is spending more to keep up the competitive level. Last year, the San Jose Earthquakes increased their on-field investment a lot. This year, they stood pat and even went lower.
By dropping less than a million dollars, the Earthquakes still went from middle of the pack to bottom quarter in salary. That type of spending won’t keep up with the rest of the league. And it certainly won’t do a whole lot to help Almeyda.
Landing Almeyda signals a ton of intent and ambition, yes. But ,there are still steps forward the Earthquakes need to take if they’re going to get the most out of their investment.