After a few months of searching, the San Jose Earthquakes have finally decided on who would be their general manager of the future. Former Quakes defender and coach Chris Leitch was named the team’s new general manager last week to little surprise due to his decade long connection to the club. Leitch will have to navigate a seemingly turbulent offseason, as the team enters Matías Almeyda’s final year of his contract.
When the club went through a rough patch during the middle part of this season, the management of the Quakes had a choice to make. That choice was to replace either Almeyda or the general manager at the time, Jesse Fioranelli. Ultimately, the club decided to part ways with Fioranelli and look for a new general manager.
Fioranelli’s four years with the team were a mixed bag with some good highs and truly awful lows. His tenure with the club started out great with some top moves, but that positive start would not last with failed moves littering his final years.
The area where Fioranelli truly succeeded was the MLS draft and the investment in young players. Over his four years with the team, he drafted Jackson Yueill, Paul Marie and Tanner Beason who have all made impacts on the team. In addition, Fioranelli was more willing than previous managers to move players from the academy into the first team with Nick Lima and JT Marcinkowski being two of the most impactful in that regard.
While he did do a good job initially with transfers, with the likes of Danny Hoesen and Vako being brought in during his first transfer window, his transfers would eventually fail towards the end of his time. Players such as Andy Ríos and Harold Cummings being amongst the players that truly never settled with the team and league. The final two seasons saw little moves, as the team was seemingly set in stone and it was difficult to get rid of some of the bigger contracts.
Leitch will have a lot to deal with, as the club is seemingly entering a transition period in Almeyda’s final year. With no guarantee on Almeyda staying past next season, he will have to provide Almeyda with necessary tools while also preparing for the future.
One positive for Leitch going into next season is that a lot of money will be coming off the books with a decent amount of players running their contracts out. Almeyda hinted at the players who will be off the books with the players he chose to play in his final match and his post-match press conference. It seems that players such as Ríos and Carlos Fierro have played their final match for the team, giving the club more financial flexibility in the offseason.
Another aspect of the roster that he will have to deal with much sooner than later will be whether to bring back Chofis on a long term deal. There is no doubt that Chofis has deserved a long term stay with the team and Leitch will have to negotiate a good deal with Chivas. The positive for the Quakes is that Chivas seems very willing to give up Chofis, meaning that they could snatch up Chofis on a long term deal for a good deal.
The last thing that Leitch will have to deal with this offseason and much of next year, will be what the future of Almeyda with the team will be. Almeyda’s four year contract finally runs down at the end of next season and neither the club nor Almeyda have really commented on what the future will be after his contract ends. Leitch must prepare for both cases by lining up potential successors for Almeyda and players for him next season.
While Leitch is an unknown general manager in the way that he will proceed with his transfers, he has hinted towards a different approach from Fioranelli. A move he made in the summer, as well as the success of another MLS team, could provide some insights on how he will operate.
The Jeremy Ebobisse trade was the first deal done by the club after Fioranelli departed and with Leitch as the interim general manager. A great deal at the time, as it brought a young and proven MLS goal scorer to a team looking for the future after Wondo would retire. Rather than opting for a risky and expensive move, Leitch went for an MLS prover scorer which is something that has been missing for the team.
Trades with other MLS teams were rather hard to find in the Fioranelli era, besides the Eric Remedi deal, but they offer more financial leeway with funds afforded to teams by the league. With the rather cheap Quakes owner, this may be the best path forward for the team. An emphasis on league proven talent complementing some of the top players already in the team can only help them compete.
A good model for the Quakes to follow are the Colorado Rapids with their shrew and efficient spending allowing them to finish as the best team in the west this season. Rather than opting for big moves such as the likes of LAFC or the Galaxy, the Rapids have gone for players that are proven in the MLS with the Mark-Anthony Kaye being the best trade of the year. Again, this may be the best way to keep the club competing in the short and long term.
After the mixed Fioranelli era, Leitch will have a lot to fix with the club in this shortened offseason. However, he has shown a deep connection to the club and a willingness to change the strategy of previous general managers. With the new season starting in February, it seems like fans will see sooner rather than later how Leitch will fare.
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