On August 29th 2020, Cade Cowell would get his first start for the San Jose Earthquakes against rivals the LA Galaxy. Cowell’s first start would be one of the most exciting moments in recent Quakes history, as the academy products’ incredible goal pumped excitement into a fanbase desperately needing it. A little over a year and a half later and not much has changed, with Cade’s development stagnating, as the club slips into irrelevance.
Cade Cowell’s first start gave Quakes fans hope that a new future was here, one where academy players could play a larger role in the shaping of the club’s successes. Now, in the 2022 season, the club is in terrible shape and Cowell is playing an increasingly smaller role in the team’s play.
On that day in August, Cowell showcased his exciting potential with his promising traits, his physicality and speed, on a large stage. In the six months after that start, he would become an MLS All Star and attract interest from European clubs, as he quickly became the club’s top prospect. Still just 18, it feels like he has all the time in the world to develop into the club’s first big academy product.
However, since the 2021 All Star break, things haven’t been the same for Cowell as his role has become less certain, with him going between a starter and bench player for weeks. At the same time, he is still a very raw prospect, with his first touch and decision making needing some work. He may not be a starting quality winger yet, but he desperately needs more playing time.
When Cade made that start in 2020, fans were given a glimpse of the team’s future and excited by his physical abilities. That excitement has unfortunately started to wane since his appearance at the All Star game in 2021 due to some stagnation on his and the club’s parts.
Since his debut in the fall of 2020, Cowell has been the best prospect that the club has ever produced with his physical gifts being elite even amongst the best players in the MLS. The Ceres native has shown insane potential and with one All Star appearance under his belt, more will come soon.
His goal against Real Salt Lake at the end of the 2021 season showcases all the exciting traits that Cowell brings to the team. Taking the ball from deep within his own half, Cade speeds past the RSL defense, pulling defenders away and giving space to the other Quakes attackers. Looking more like a wide receiver or track star, the acceleration displayed is clearly well beyond his years.
However, it may be the final moves before his goal that tantalizingly shows his immense potential with his ability to split defenders to drive on goal. The way he splits the two defenders with a great move teases his complete potential as a dribbler. If he can combine his speed and physicality with dribbling moves, he can become an elite player in the MLS and even Europe.
This ability to take on defenders with pace, physicality and skill makes him a unique prospect that the league has only really seen in Alphonso Davies. Comparing him to Davies may be a little much, as Davies is a better prospect, but what makes Cowell interesting is his ability to play multiple positions.
Across his close to two seasons in the MLS, Cade has played striker, winger, wing back and center attacking mid to various degrees of success. By far the two best positions that he’s played in are striker and winger, as it allows him to better capitalize on his skills. Towards the end of last season, Almeyda began playing him on the wing and it worked, with his ability to cut in from the wing helping him take advantage of slower defenders.
The lack of a true position is both a blessing and a curse, as it allows him to showcase his various skills, but doesn’t allow for him to hone his skills in one position. Of course this can change, but for now it may be beneficial to allow him to develop on the forward line.
One of the best things that Matías Almeyda has done as manager of the Quakes has been his willingness to trust the youth and Cade’s path to the first team has been a result of that. Cade Cowell has immense potential, coming from an MLS academy, and should be proof that youth development is a viable path forward for the team.
Despite some interesting moments, Cowell has spent the majority of the time since the 2021 All Star game coming off the bench. This has been a result of Almeyda’s tactical choices and some areas that Cowell must continue to develop.
While Almeyda has shown his want to develop young players, as he has given academy players and draft picks the chance to develop, very few of them have been given meaningful roles. Jackson Yueill has been the only one that has become an integral part with Tanner Beason maybe joining him soon. Others, like Gilbert Fuentes and Siad Haji, have barely been given a chance, spending more time in the USL than on the Quakes bench.
At the same time Almeyda has continued to mix formations and tactics, leaving out Cade or forcing him to play in positions that aren’t natural to him. For example, just this season, Almeyda has played Chofis and Espinoza on the wings, relegating Cowell to the wing back position. This, of course, stunts his development and robs the team of a potential difference maker in the offense.
Unlike other Quakes homegrown talents like Nick Lima and Tommy Thompson who have been able to continue their development in college to become more polished, Cowell came in as a raw prospect. This meant that in the two areas that he must continue to work on, his touch and decision making, he was always going to be behind them in terms of readiness. Other MLS academy products who have jumped straight into the MLS have had the same issues, but have been allowed to play.
Both areas that Cowell has to work on need time and require a commitment from both player and coach in order to maximize his potential and aid the team in righting the ship. Working on first touch and having a better feel of the ball comes from working with the ball religiously at practice and in game. While the decision making can only come from game reps and this will take a season or more to develop properly, meaning that Almeyda must allow him to play through mistakes.
With a player that has displayed a lot of talent and potential, a lot of playing time is needed to help them develop and play through mistakes. Cade hasn’t been given the chance to properly develop. It would be a shame to see the most talented youngster the club has not developed in a way that maximizes his career and the Quakes’ team success.
When Cade Cowell was named an All Star last season, it felt like the first positive moment in the recent history of the Quakes, as the team seemingly had their star who could replace Wondo. It hasn’t all gone according to plan, but Cowell’s talent is clear and he could develop into a great player. With Cade Cowell being the best prospect the club has had since Landon Donovan, the team must develop him properly.
Featured Image: The Ceres Courier