A little over 20 years ago, the San Jose Earthquakes won their first MLS cup in Columbus against the Galaxy. This would help push the Quakes to their greatest period in club history, winning another cup and one Supporters’ Shield. The Quakes have never had a period of success like this in their club’s history, before or since, but there are some things that the current squad could learn.
This will be the second 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.
The league, and world, is dramatically different today from 20 years ago and so is the reputation of the Quakes. Twenty years ago, they were amongst the best teams in the league and about to start a four year period of being competitive.
Smart transfers and tactical choices highlighted both this period and the preparation put into turning this team into one of the best in league history. The team went from the worst in the league the season prior to winners in a move that has never been repeated since. With the current front office going through an important offseason, they should study the way that the front office in 2001 rebuilt the team.
As the team ramps up for the 2022 season, the legends of 2001 should serve as templates for a team that is struggling to find a way back to contention. While a different team to that of 2012, the 2001 team is still one of the most impressive in team history with their securing of the club’s first MLS cup forever ingrained in club lore.
While the 2012 squad was a dominant attacking side, the 2001 side was truly elite defensively and had one of the best defenses in MLS history. Stars littered this team with Landon Donovan developing into a top player during his time with the team.
With only 29 goals allowed, the Quakes had the best defense in the regular season with Jeff Agoos winning defensive player of the year. The defensive pairing of Agoos and Troy Dayak proved to be the toughest in the league, as their play grew from week to week. Jimmy Conrad and Wade Barrett added more solidity at the fullback position with both players being more defensive minded than attacking fullbacks.
Unlike their 2012 counterparts, this team thrived in the playoffs, losing only once and conceding just 3 goals. This team blew teams out of the water in the playoffs with their performance against the Miami Fusion being a masterclass over three legs. Despite going down a goal early in the final, the team roared back with Dwayne De Rosario scoring the winner in extra time, showing the resiliency of the side.
This side was just as special but in a different way from the 2012 team, as they rested their laurels on the defensive side. While the style of play has dramatically changed, the way the team built their foundation on defensive solidity can still inspire today’s squad.
As the front office and coaching staff begin their preparations for the preseason, there are a few lessons they should learn from the 2001 side. With their focus on defensive solidarity and helping a talented youngster grow being two of their best qualities, the current Quakes team could learn something or two.
Nathan and Tanner Beason are clearly the center back pairing for both the present and future of the Quakes and this is the correct choice, as both players are immensely talented. They do have the potential to be amongst the best in the league, but they must be flanked by good fullbacks. Marcos López is already a great left back, but the right back position has been a struggle for the team and nailing the correct transfer this offseason should be the priority.
Cade Cowell is a star in the making, but the team must not rush him to be the focal point of the team and this is something that Almeyda realized in the middle of last season. Comparing him to Donovan is a little much, as Donovan is arguably the greatest USMNT player of all time, but the way the 2001 treated him should help the current Quakes team figure out what to do with Cade. By allowing Donovan to start the season on the bench and grow into the starting lineup, they removed a lot of pressure from him and the current team should aim to remove as much pressure from Cade as possible.
The lessons are there for the current team to pick up on, as the situation that the club found itself in after the 2000 season is similar to the one the club is in now. Building off defensive solidity is a great way to add some consistency to a team and the Quakes do have some building blocks there. The way the club handles Cade Cowell will likely help decide how successful the club will be next year and the way the club treated Landon Donovan in 2001 should give a model to the current team.
The 2001 Quakes were a special team that went from being the worst to the best in the span of a single season. This feat has never been repeated, and will likely never be repeated, making them a perfect example for the current team. With the team off another disappointing season, they should aim to bounce back through smart coaching moves and correct transfers to be able to compete next season.
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