The 2012 San Jose Earthquakes remain the best team that the club has had since their return to San Jose in 2008. That team won the Supporters’ Shield and remains one of the most iconic MLS teams of the past decade. While the current Earthquakes’ team isn’t similar to that iconic team, there are still lessons to be learned from that historic 2012 team.
This will be the first part of a new series that will look at historic Quakes teams to see what the current team can learn as they prepare for the new season. Every week for the next few weeks, an iconic Quakes team will be covered to see what Matías Almeyda and the front office can take from these teams.
2012 was a truly special season for the Quakes not only did they win the Supporters’ Shield, but Wondo broke the record for most goals scored in a single season. The “Goonies” were a team that refused to die during the regular season and provided some of the best moments in the club’s history. From Steven Lenhart to Jason Hernandez, iconic players littered the roster.
This team’s famous characteristic was how they refused to lose, coming back from large deficits to win. So many late game moments are now burned into the memories of fans and it reminds them of a time when the club was successful and found ways to compete against the big spenders of the league. It was a team of underdogs in a city that the league had abandoned that would shock the MLS.
There are lessons to be learned from this team, despite the seemingly large and obvious differences in the way the teams play and operate. From the way transfers were handled to the players used, the lessons are there for this current iteration of the Quakes to pick up and use in the coming season.
72 goals with 43 allowed, giving a goal differential of +29 remains one of the best differentials in club history. That amount of goals still ranks fifth all time in MLS history with the only teams beating them, being the flashiest offenses in the league rather than the scrappy attacks the Quakes had.
Alan Gordon, Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart formed an impressive goalscoring trio that will never truly be replicated. Wondo, of course, led the line and scored a record 27 goals and was usually partnered with Lenhart to form a sort of bash brother partnership, with Lenhart becoming hated across the league for his play. Gordon would often come off the bench to provide a spark and would score some of the best last second goals in league history, with his goals against the Galaxy being part of Quakes lore.
In what was typical of MLS play at the time, and a throwback to soccer in the 70s, the way the offense played required wingers to be whipping balls in the box rather than being creative like they are today. This lack of a demand for truly creative midfielders bled to the midfield where manager Frank Yallop opted to play more defensive midfielders to allow the attackers the freedom to carve their own space. Today’s MLS is in another galaxy when comparing it to how the game was played less than a decade ago, with wingers being more creative and a midfield needing to be full of creators.
Defensively, the Quakes were middle of the pack but were filled with players who would later become stars in the MLS with different teams. The two full backs, Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow, would develop into stars on the Toronto FC team that dominated the MLS in the late 2010s. A sparingly used defender, Ike Opara, would leave the Quakes for Sporting KC and develop into the league’s best defender, further showing the immense quality this side had.
Winning a Supporters’ Shield is only second to winning the MLS cup for teams and it’s often difficult to repeat as winners. The 2012 side will forever live with Quakes fans, as one of the best moments in the club’s history.
While the MLS is totally different to what it was in 2012, the way the team found certain players and used them should give this current side a blueprint for the offseason. With an overhaul likely coming either this offseason or the next, it’s the perfect time for the front office to reflect on the success of 2012.
The majority of the players in the 2012 squad were MLS veterans who had some success with other teams, but gave the team MLS experience. This is something the current side, and previous sides, have been reluctant to do, seeing players from other leagues as a better option.
However, this seems to have changed with new general manager Chris Leitch’s first transactions being for talent found in the MLS. While there isn’t much designated player level talent available for trade, MLS veterans allow for cheap options to flesh out a roster. Recent MLS cup winners have had incredible designated player talents flanked by experienced MLS players, giving teams the perfect balance of elite talent and veteran leadership.
One of the biggest failures of the post 2012 Quakes was their inability to find scoring outside of Wondo. With Wondo gone, the need for secondary scorers only intensifies and with multiple clinical finishers being the hallmark of the 2012 side, this should be another focus for the offseason. Acquiring a MLS proven forward like C.J. Sapong can only help the team and gives Jeremy Ebobisse and Benji Kikanovic some freedom to further develop.
Yallop and Matías Almeyda are totally different managers, but Yallop can still give Almeyda a model for success in the league. Yallop, like Almeyda, had always used his favorite formation, but was more willing to change the players in that formation. This allowed for him to play differently against different lineups and kept teams guessing.
As the Quakes enter yet another season after failing to make the playoffs the previous season, the team should look towards the legends of 2012 for inspiration. The 2012 side was a side full of underdogs who challenged the league to play their way and succeeded. With a lot of lessons available from this team, the front office and coaching staff should look towards them as they enter the new season.
Featured Image: San Jose Earthquakes