Season Preview: San Jose Earthquakes / by Andrew Olsen

Soccer in San Jose has a unique history, going back to the Clash earning MLS’s first ever victory in 1996. The franchise changed its name to the Earthquakes in 1999, and a few years later it started winning MLS Cups thanks to a Landon Donovan-sized gift from Bayer Leverkusen. A young Donovan helped to lead San Jose to MLS Cup wins in 2001 and 2003. But after the 2005 season, the ownership group grew tired of failing to embezzle funds from Silicon Valley’s tax payers and moved head coach Dominic Kinnear and the rest of the team to Houston. The Earthquakes were not reborn until the 2008 season, and since then they have been mired in a streak of mostly 6th and 7th-place finishes, with an out-of-the-blue, historic 2012 season sprinkled in.1

2013 Starting XI

SJ11

Transactions

Player Added Position From   Player Lost Position To
Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi M Out of nowhere Ramiro Corrales M Retired
Atiba Harris F Trade from Colorado Nana Attakora D Option declined
Billy Schuler F Weighted lottery Dan Gargan D Option declined
Tommy Thompson M Homegrown Marcus Tracy F Option declined
Shaun Francis D Re-Entry Stage 2 Evan Newton GK Option declined
Brandon Barklage D Re-Entry Stage 2 Peter McGlynn D Option declined
Bryan Meredith GK Free Cesar Diaz Pizarro F Option declined
J.J. Koval M SuperDraft Mehdi Ballouchy M Out of contract
Justin Morrow D Traded to Toronto FC
Rafael Baca M Transferred to Cruz Azul
Jaime Alas M Loan expired
Marvin Chávez M Traded to Colorado
Steven Beitashour D Traded to Vancouver

Roster churn: San Jose returns 68.8% of its minutes played from 2013, 14th in MLS and 6th in the Western Conference.

2014 Preview

SanJoseINFOComing off a 72-goal, 66-point performance in 2012’s regular season, many thought San Jose would likely find the playoffs again, and even be in the running for an MLS Cup Trophy. But 2013 saw the Earthquakes miss out on the playoffs completely, abruptly ending their hot run during the second half of the season. Striker Chris Wondolowski’s past two seasons mirrored those of the team, eclipsing the league in 2012 with 27 goals, and then failing to reach half that tally in 2013. Our upgraded shot locations data suggest that Wondo scored just 88.5 percent of the goals that a league-average player would be expected San Jose's 2014 Rosterto score based on his shot opportunities. Will 2014 see the return of Wondolowski and San Jose to one of the top seeds in the West, or will it prove to be the franchise that has placed 6th or 7th in five of the past six seasons?

San Jose was a perplexing club from a statistical standpoint last season. Our expected goal differential statistics (xGD) really liked the fact that the Earthquakes earned 4.8 shots per game from zone 2---the dangerous area around the penalty spot---which was good for second best in the entire league. San Jose finished with the league’s third-best xGD at +6.8. Those metrics seem to suggest that the second half of last season, when San Jose earned 33 points over 17 games, was more representative of their true ability. Indeed, it's worth noting that San Jose has been one of the best teams in the league for three-quarters of the past two seasons.

Before we get moving too quickly, though, we have some new data to bring the Goonies partway back to earth. This year’s version of shot locations data will break shots down by how they were taken, specifically headed versus kicked. With almost all the data in, now, it turns out that San Jose took nearly 23 percent of all its shots as headers---second only to Seattle---but headers are finished at about half the rate of kicked shots. The upgraded xGD 2.0 pegged the Earthquakes at an xGD of about +2.0 in 2013, which placed them fifth in the West. Fitting, as our readers picked San Jose to finish 5th in this coming season.

Of course, statistics from last year have a hard time determining the effect of losing players like Steve Beitashour and Marvin Chávez (the team’s assist leader in 2012). The major scoring pieces are still there in Wondolowski, Alan Gordon, and Steven Lenhart, but it’s harder to peg down the importance and replaceability of those midfielders and defenders.

If San Jose can continue to generate dangerous opportunities, as they have in each of the past two seasons, then look for the Earthquakes to regain a playoff spot in 2014.

Crowd Sourcing Results

5th place in the Western Conference; 138 voters (31.4%) felt that San Jose will be either a 4th or 5th seed in the playoffs in 2014, but 228 voters (56.4%) projected them to miss the playoffs completely.