By Tom Worville (@worville)
San Jose finished bottom of the Western Conference last season and 18th overall - a very poor season by any standards. Considering they finished first in the Western Conference just two years ago (reaching the quarter-finals of both the playoffs and the open cup) this drop in form is quite remarkable.
But, as with all new seasons there is renewed hope. Dominic Kinnear is back as head coach and San Jose have made several strong signings, reinforcing the core of the squad. They also look forward to playing in the brand new Avaya Stadium, which hosts its first game on February 28th where the Earthquakes are set to face LA Galaxy in a friendly.
Looking at the data from last season, San Jose faced the most shots per game (16.1) of all teams in both conferences. Considering the next highest was the 14.4 a game faced by FC Dallas, and the league average was 13.0 this is a very high figure. It’s evident from this data that San Jose are very open to conceding shots in games. Whether this comes down to poor positioning or defending cannot be concluded from this data - but it highlights the need to bolster the defensive side of the team.
Turning our attention to the number of shots per game, San Jose had the 4th joint lowest of all teams, averaging 11.4 shots. While this is not as bad as their shots faced last season, it does not represent much of an improvement either. It indicates the number of chances created is very low; 285 last season being the second lowest in MLS (lowest being Chivas with 216 chances created).
To put it bluntly, San Jose were bad last year. For any decent side in any league in the world you need to restrict the number of shots that the opposition has and/or out-shoot them. San Jose did neither and their league finish reflects that. The upside is that they can probably only improve. The 2015 season is an opportunity to re-build, and effort which has begun in the offseason with a set of fairly strong roster moves.
San Jose now has three DP’s on their roster following the signing of Innocent Emeghara - adding to the incumbent duo of Chris Wondolowski and Matias Perez Garcia. Emeghara, a Swiss international, comes from Azerbaijanian side Qarabag. He joins the Quakes with a goalscoring record of roughly one goal in every three games. If he can add 10 goals to San Jose’s tally this season it would be a great return on investment for the 25 year old.
It will also be the Quakes first full season with Garcia, as he only managed to play 6 games last year after joining in the summer. It would be unwise to look at his contribution to the team in such a small sample size of games and takeaway any meaningful conclusions, but a goal, an assist and a duel win percentage of 61% are all good signs.
The other new arrivals are Leandro Barrera, Mark Sherrod, Marvell Wynne, Sanna Nyassi and Fatai Alashe, who was picked up from the 2015 Superdraft. The team lost Jason Hernandez to NYCFC in the Expansion Draft and declined the option on longtime goalkeeper Jon Busch. They traded Sam Cronin to Colorado and Yannick Djalo’s loan expired. Finally, Andy Gruenebaum decided to retire after joining San Jose from Sporting Kansas City.
From the departures, Cronin is one of the more standout names. He was with the Quakes for four seasons and played for them 140 times, scoring five goals in the process. Clearly not an attacking midfielder, Cronin predominantly plays as a defensive, box to box midfielder. His place is likely to be taken up, at least in part, by Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi. The Frenchman will be coming into his second season of American soccer with a more than capable defensive skillset. He made more tackles and interceptions than Cronin per 90 minutes, and committed fewer fouls, and received fewer yellow cards. He was tied with Cronin on 87% pass accuracy last season, but created a lot fewer chances and scored fewer goals. Evidently not an attack minded player - it will be up to Pierazzi to break up the attacks and start them from deep.
Another important player this season is going to be Shea Salinas. The wide-man will be hoping to build on a decent year last season and potentially add a few more goals to his game. Comparing Salinas’ 2013 and 2014 seasons, he created fewer chances last year than in 2013 (2.23 vs 2.97 per 90 minutes) and scored fewer goals (0.09 vs 0.04). He also took fewer shots and made fewer assists per 90 last season compared to 2013. His pass completion rate increased from 75% to 78%, indicating he’s potentially becoming more cautious when on the ball. Hopefully, with the addition of Emeghara and a full season of Garcia in the midfield, Salinas is able to create some more chances and become more of an attacking component for his side.
Finally, I’m going to focus on San Jose’s talismanic striker Chris Wondolowski. Wondo is entering his 7th year with San Jose over two spells. He managed an excellent 14 goals in 20 games last season, building on a solid 11 in 29 the season previous. This goals p90 of 0.54 was good, but this tally represented 40% of all of San Jose’s goals last season. As much as this highlights how much of an asset he is for San Jose, you can’t help but think he’s leaned on by the team too much. If San Jose want to be a force in the Western Conference, they'll need to hope the new signings can alleviate some of the pressure. Compared to his expected goals, Wondo overscored by 2.1 goals last season. This highlights despite overscoring last season, it was only by a marginal amount. For this reason it’s unlikely that his scoring will regress at all - and I’d be very surprised to see him score under 15 goals this season if he’s fully fit. Wondo also over-assisted last season, getting 5 vs the 2.6 that the model says that he should have.
To conclude, San Jose can’t really get as bad as last season. Fans should look forward to a strong season at their new home, with a nicely rebuilt squad and a third DP to help lift the goalscoring pressure on striker Chris Wondolowski. The departure of Sam Cronin to Colorado shouldn’t affect the team too much, as Jean Baptiste-Pierazzi is more than capable of filling the gap. Shea Salinas could also be in for a productive year, and at 28 it would be a great time to have a career season.