Over the past decade, the MLS has changed in ways that are unrecognizable to fans who have been watching the league since the early 2010s. The league has become more appealing to players looking to develop, as MLS teams try to establish themselves as some of the best in the Americas. In this ever changing league, the Quakes with their struggles may seem out of place but aren’t totally.
At the start of the 2010s, the MLS was a league where washed up superstars would spend the last years of their careers, as their level of play dropped to that of a retiree. Images of a way past his prime Andrea Pirlo and a diminished Bastian Schweinsteiger are easily conjured. At the same time, it was not a league where young players could develop and meant that the USMNT focused on players in other leagues for their squads.
In the last few years, since Toronto’s signing of Sebastian Giovinco more or less, the league has done a complete 180. Instead of aging legends of old, players in the last years of their primes are making moves to the league and young players are finding a home to develop into exciting prospects.
Just this transfer window the league has signed two stars, still in their primes, in Lorenzo Insigne and Xherdan Shaqiri who should bring more attention to the league. The most impressive change that the league has undergone has been the way they have become one of the most interesting places to develop. These two changes have made the MLS go from a novelty league to one that has the potential to be a top destination for young players and veterans nearing the end of their primes.
Now at first glance it may look like the Quakes are severely lacking in both areas and are doomed to be towards the bottom of the MLS for eternity. On the side of big transfers, they are lacking, but with youth player development, they have the potential to be amongst the best in the league.
Groundbreaking transfers have not really been in the Quakes’ wheelhouse since their return to San Jose in 2008, with an overwhelming amount of bad transfers for every good one. What is more interesting is that the Quakes, since 2012 or so, have not really gone after players past their primes.
In a way anticipating the shift in the league, the Quakes since 2012 have typically gone for players who are playing outside the top 5 European leagues that are still in their primes. This planning became a central strategy under Jesse Fioranelli who sought to bring in players outside the typical scope of the MLS. Across the league, teams were still bringing in players way past their primes like Pirlo and Nigel de Jong, but the Quakes operated differently.
The results were mixed, Innocent Emeghara was brought in to much excitement but flopped so badly that he, deservedly, belongs amongst the worst transfers in league history. On the more positive side, players like Vako and Florian Jungwirth who proved to be good additions in a changing MLS. That said, it does seem like the league has passed the Quakes, as these types of transfers have become few and far between.
More recently, there has been yet another shift in the MLS where younger South American players move to the MLS to further their chances to move to Europe or become stars in the MLS. The Quakes have done some good business in this realm two despite a few total flops.
Cristian Espinoza and Marcos López are two of the best signings in Quakes’ history and are amongst the best in their position in the league, with López potentially moving to brighter pastures. At the same time, Chofis has been a revelation for the team and should continue to play like an MVP this season. Again there have been total flops with this strategy, as Carlos Fierro and Andy Ríos are chief amongst those.
It’s safe to say that the Quakes are lacking when it comes to their big transfers, but they haven’t operated in a manner out of place concerning the shifts in the MLS. The team has found some diamonds despite the litany of flops and aren’t miles behind like an Inter Miami or FC Cincinnati.
Player development has been one area where the Quakes have done an incredible job in and they seem poised to do even better in the near future. Operating with a budget that isn’t comparable to those of the LA teams, the Quakes have had to operate with young players and have done a good job in that regard.
In 2014, Tommy Thompson became the team’s first ever homegrown player, a historic moment for the club as the MLS was first finding success with homegrown players. Since then, the team has added a further nine homegrown players to add to a growing youth movement. The good news for the team is that the vast majority of these players have been successes.
Thompson is a great MLS rotation player and Nick Lima, the second homegrown player, was great for the Quakes despite his move away and subsequent struggles. The recent homegrowns have been hits with Cade Cowell having scary potential and JT Marcinkowski already an above average MLS keeper. On their way are players with high ceilings as they have showcased in preseason, with Emi Ochoa and Niko Tsakiris are highly regarded and will play a part for the Quakes in the near future.
So far, the success hasn’t been limited to just their academy promotions but also their success in the MLS SuperDraft. Since Fioranelli’s time at the Quakes, there has been a concentrated effort to get some value from their picks and Chris Leitch seems to want to continue that trend.
While not the most glamorous of options, the MLS SuperDraft can yield some good return should a team care to make the right choices. From Jackson Yueill to Tanner Beason, the Quakes have stocked the team full with exciting prospects who have been successful in the MLS from the draft. The actions of Leitch this offseason have further shown how important the draft has been for the team’s development.
The Quakes have lacked the prestige in the transfer department, but have been elite at player development with a steady pipeline ready to prepare the club for the next few seasons. All future success for the team could potentially be attributed to the team’s willingness to invest in youth.
In an ever changing MLS landscape, the Quakes are neither an elite side like the Seattle Sounders or stuck in the bottom like an FC Cincinnati, but are rather in a state of limbo. Excelling in player development but sorely lacking in a proper transfer strategy, the Quakes could have a way out in player development. The MLS is changing and the Quakes aren’t in a terrible position, but have the chance to be better than what they are currently.
Featured Image: San Jose Earthquakes