With the San Jose Earthquakes’ season over, as they are out of the playoff race at this point, it is time to look towards the future.
The failure to make the playoffs this season will likely have management making some tough decisions.
These decisions will revolve around which players will be the foundational pieces for the future.
The current squad does have a lot of talent from Chofis to Cade Cowell and, in all honesty, should have made the playoffs. When comparing this team to a team such as the Colorado Rapids, there is more talent on the team, with all-stars and international players filling out the Quakes roster. Despite the talent found on the Quakes, they were for the majority of the season on the outside looking in.
Regardless of whether manager Matias Almeyda stays with the team or not, ownership and the new general manager will likely look to restructure this team, which means that they will look to build around certain foundational pieces for the future and present of this team.
With the season at its end, it would be beneficial to look through these foundational pieces at each position to see better what moves are to be expected in this offseason. These pieces should be both young and talented, as it would be beneficial for the club to find complementary parts.
JT Marcinkowski is without a doubt the keeper of now and the future as he has now spent a season as the undeniable starter for the team. Despite some rough mistakes, he has still performed well for the team, with room to grow. The great news for Quakes fans is that at the age of 24, he has not even entered his prime yet and will continue to grow.
JT’s biggest strengths are in his reflexes and saves, with his ability being years past his age and amongst the best in the league. When comparing his saving percentage to other keepers across the league, his ability to save shots ranks in the top half of MLS keepers. The other keepers ahead of him are more experienced players on teams challenging for the playoffs, making JT’s stats even more impressive.
The largest area of improvement for JT is his decision-making, which is a bit of a reflection of his age and inexperience at the top level. An example of this is his inconsistency when coming out to challenge crosses in the air, as he will either not move or run too far out to punch the ball. While these inconsistencies have been costly, they should be something that will get better with more experience at the top level.
Just as in the attack, the Quakes have some nice players in the defense who are both young and talented. Nathan and Tanner Beason have played great together and are looking to form the club’s next great defensive partnership; Marcos López looks to be an exciting prospect for European clubs. With both European and South American teams surely to be looking at him, it is a matter of when and not if he leaves for bigger heights.
One needs to only think of López’s goal against the LA Galaxy last season to be reminded of his offensive potential. Throughout his time with the team, he has been amongst the best crosses on the team who is unafraid to try towards a goal. In addition, his dribbling ability is one of the best on the team and league, giving the team a valuable attacking player.
Like a lot of promising attacking fullbacks, to reach the next level, he must improve defensively as his numbers on that side are weak. Comparing his pressuring and tackle success numbers to other defenders, his numbers are below average, especially on the pressuring side. There is a bright side on the defensive numbers, though, as he ranks amongst the best interceptors in the league, showing a foundation he can build on.
It seems that the team does have their midfield of the future centering around Jackson Yueill, who Eric Remedi and Judson complement. Yueill has already become one of the league’s best midfielders and a staple of the USMNT. He has shown incredible growth since being drafted by the team in 2017, especially under the tutelage of Almeyda.
Another exciting aspect of the future of the midfield is whether the club decides to bring back Chofis on a long-term basis as they did with Cristian Espinoza. Chofis has been the club’s MVP this season, with the month of September being truly magical for him. If management decides to bring him back, the partnership of him and Yueill should form an incredible spine for the future of this team.
One thing that the Quakes should do, whether Chofis is brought back or not, is to add depth to this midfield. A team that is serious about making the playoffs shouldn’t have only one rotation midfielder in Jack Skahan off the bench. Management should focus on bringing in rotational midfielders who have played on good teams in the MLS, such as Tommy McNamara.
Like in the backline, the forward line seems prepped for the future, with the best players all being under the age of 28. While Jeremy Ebobisse and Benji Kikanovic are great young players who have proven themselves in the MLS, the Quakes’ future revolves around Cade Cowell. Already an MLS all-star, the sky seems to be the limit for Cade.
One of Cade’s biggest strengths is his raw athleticism, showing that at a physical level, he belongs amongst the best players in the league. One needs to only look at the goal he scored against RSL to see where he blazed down the flank to cut open the RSL defense. Since the beginning of the season, he has been able to combine his physicality with his goal-scoring instinct to really develop into an exciting prospect.
The areas that Cade should improve on are his decision-making and first touch, which both can be fixed, as he still is less than 20 years old. As a reflection of his age, his decision-making is sub-par, but again, this is something that can be improved upon with more game reps. His first touch has let him down throughout the season, be it on control or pass, but this is fixable and not an issue that will hurt his prospects as long as he works on it.
Despite the failures of this season, the Quakes do have a foundation that they can build on to be more competitive next season.
It will require work and an actual strategy, but it is the only way that the club can actually compete in the modern landscape of the MLS.
This will be a pivotal offseason for the team, as it seems that another make or break window has opened for the club.
Featured Image: Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group