Currently in Santa Barbara, the San Jose Earthquakes are beginning their preparations for the upcoming MLS season after yet another disappointing year. Preseason is always an exciting time that signals a new beginning where previous expectations are thrown out and new ones are set. Despite a great draft, there are still questions hanging around the team given their inaction in other areas.
For yet another preseason in the warm Southern California sun, the Quakes are starting a new year with uncertainty regarding their future. Being inactive in the transfer market and rumors swirling around Matías Almeyda has sucked the air out of the team’s sails before the season has even begun. The season has yet to begin so there is still time for the team, but preseason should be an opportunity to ease some concerns.
One of the positives of this tumultuous offseason has been the front office’s move to add more depth through free agency and the SuperDraft. These moves go a long way to shore up a team that has for so long needed depth when games get rough.
Despite these positives, there are still questions regarding how the team will line up in the new season with some positions having great depth and others lacking an MLS quality starter. There may be a few moves before the season starts, but this preseason will likely be their only real shot at addressing the issues. The three major issues that the Quakes must address in Santa Barbara are the lack of a real right back, the defensive formation and the players who will make up the midfield.
Ever since the Quakes allowed Steven Beitashour to be traded in 2014, the team has struggled to find an adequate MLS quality right back. From Cordell Cato to Kofi Sarkodie, it’s been a revolving door of players at the position with no real consistency.
Tommy Thompson has played admirably in the position since Almeyda took over with him finally seeing consistent playing time after years of being neglected by some coaches. While not a natural right back, he’s much better in the midfield, he has been solid for the team. However, at this point in his career, Thompson should be seen as a Swiss Army Knife, a solid player who can play anywhere off the bench.
Barring any real move, Paul Marie will likely be the starting right back going into next season deservedly given how he’s improved over the last season. At this point, Marie is likely an average starting right back, but with some of the flashes he has shown, he could develop into a nice piece. Marie should use this preseason to solidify himself as the club’s current and long term option at the position.
The Quakes should be using this preseason to fully vet the right back position and make the decision between Thompson and Marie. While Thompson has been a great servant to the club, Marie has developed too well to not have earned the starting spot.
As a product of an excellent draft and certain transfer rumors, the Quakes have found themselves with a great depth of defenders. From Nathan to Oskar Ågren, the team has a good problem on their hands, they have quality players but now must figure out how to use them.
Getting Ågren in the draft was a steal for the team, given how highly scouts have rated him, and now gives the team a player with immense potential that could still contribute. In addition, the team is rumored to be targeting former Chicago Fire defender Francisco Calvo, another MLS quality defender. Should they make this signing, this would give the team four center backs and possibly alter the great partnership between Tanner Beason and Nathan.
With three quality center backs and a top class left back, but no right back, the team’s defensive formation seems to be up in the air going into this training camp. Over the course of last season, Almeyda played a mixture of four and three at the back, at times pushing Marcos López further forward. The issue of wing depth may prevent a three at the back, but the quality of the center backs at hand may warrant this move.
A rather good conundrum to have, the defensive depth of the team should be one of the hallmarks of next season. The team should use this time in Santa Barbara to figure out how to get the most out of their defenders.
Another interesting, but good, issue that the Quakes will need to address is how to structure the midfield given the addition of Ján Greguš. Already something that they dealt with last year, the team’s dearth of defensive midfielders at times presented an issue on who to start.
Greguš is a starting caliber player who will add another dimension to the midfield given how talented he can be with his passing. He should complement Jackson Yueill in a great way and lift some of the playmaking duties off his shoulders. Their partnership will likely make the Quakes’ midfield one of the more technically talented in the west.
Where the team’s conundrum will really be seen is who will play in the third midfield role and this will likely depend on where Chofis will play. If Chofis continues to play in the midfield, Greguš may be better off the bench and one of Eric Remedi and Judson will play alongside Yueill. Should Chofis play on the wing, Greguš will keep his place and again Remedi or Judson will have the third place and this may result in a much more balanced midfield.
Amongst all the issues that they have, the midfield is likely the lowest of the three large ones and it may also be the easiest to fix. Santa Barbara should be an audition for the midfielders to see who will line up alongside Yueill next season.
The team’s time in Santa Barbara should be seen as a time of renewal in the midst of another tumultuous offseason. Entering Almeyda’s final year, the goal should be to extract something good from his tenure in San Jose given what his arrival meant. Santa Barbara should be seen as a training camp of high importance and will be the most intriguing across the MLS.
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