On October 8, 2018, the San Jose Earthquakes announced Matías Almeyda as their new head coach who would carry the club to a new era of greatness. His arrival was met with fanfare and a sense of renewal, as the Quakes had finally brought in an acclaimed coach with a distinct playstyle. Now, over three and a half years later, the era is over with not really much to show for it and the club is now in another period of upheaval.
Almeyda’s appointment took the MLS by surprise, as the club that had struggled to regain 2012 form had just hired one of the most sought after managers in the Americas. With the Almeyda era finally ending this week, the club must start all over yet again.
A roller coaster is probably the best comparison to Almeyda’s tenure, as it was a mixture of highs and lows that the club has become accustomed to. The first two seasons were full of promise where it seemed that the club could finally contend in a league that has passed them. His final two years were just disappointing where everything began to collapse in on itself.
The biggest question that Quakes fans may have, and that will haunt the club for the foreseeable future, is where does the blame lay for the failure of Almeyda’s tenure? As it has since 2012, the ownership has limited the team and forced them to operate on a budget similar to the A’s. At the same time, Almeyda’s decisions both on the tactical and personnel side were awful.
It would be unfair to Almeyda to say he did nothing right during his time here, but it was just overshadowed by his and the ownership/front office’s failures. With the club likely to enter another period of uncertainty, it desperately needs to learn from the failures of the Almeyda era otherwise it will never get out of this cycle of failure.
To really get a better understanding of how it all collapsed, it’s a good idea to start from the first year of Almeyda’s contract and progress through the seasons.
In what would become a trend in future seasons, Almeyda would begin his MLS career in terrible form, winning only two games in his first month. The team would eventually have a great run from May to July before collapsing in August, missing the playoffs by just four points. From the worst team in the league to a playoff hopeful, Almeyda had turned around the hopes of Quakes fans.
The COVID-19 pandemic would completely transform the 2020 season with the MLS adding the MLS is Back tournament, as a restart to league play. To say that the tournament was great for the Quakes would be an understatement, the team had incredible performances and went surprisingly deep. These great performances didn’t really bleed into the regular season, but they were still able to clinch a playoff spot.
While the Quakes would lose in a heartbreaking penalty shootout performance, it finally felt like the team was ready for the future. Young prospects like Cade Cowell and Tanner Beason began to be involved in the first team and it felt like the future was there for the taking.
In previous seasons, the Quakes would swing from great months to months of play where they looked like they belonged in the USL, but for the first time, the team just struggled. Winning only back to back games twice is a sign of wild inconsistency, but the weirdest sign was definitely their 4 draws in a row. Of course with these results, the Quakes failed to make the playoffs with multiple players regressing, but the biggest loss had to be Wondo who retired after the final game.
Seven games in so far this season and it’s a safe bet to write the Quakes off as playoff contenders, as they will be lucky to not finish last in the league. From the start of the season, Almeyda had made his displeasure with the front office known publicly. This, along with terrible performances, ultimately led the club to call an end to the Almeyda experience.
With a promising first two seasons, fans hoped that finally the Quakes could get back to the level they were at in the early 2010s. However, the wheels eventually fell off and the team and fans are stuck in a ditch waiting for a car to drive by and help them out of the ditch.
Blame for the Quakes’ current situation can be placed all around from ownership to the front office and finally to Almeyda himself. After looking at his tenure at the club, a better picture can emerge of what structures allowed for the collapse of such a promising era.
Ownership and the front office can be sort of lumped into one entity, as the front office takes directions from ownership to help give the manager the best assets possible. For the past few years, the Quakes’ ownership group has been the focus of much of fans’ frustrations.
The main criticism lobbed towards the ownership group has been their lack of big spending which is both fair and unfair. It is fair to say that the Quakes don’t spend as much as the LA teams, but their payroll is not the worst in the league and they spend more than Philadelphia Union, a powerhouse. The issue with the spending has been on the players they chose to spend on, not on how much per say, teams like the Union and Rapids have built contenders out of paper thin budgets.
Where the ownership and front office has failed is in identifying a cohesive plan towards team building and developing a development plan. Players like Andy Ríos and Carlos Fierro were given sizable contracts to fit Almeyda’s system, but were among the worst players in the MLS. For most of the era, they would aim for players who Almeyda had worked with rather than players who could win in the MLS.
Almeyda was supposed to usher in an era of Quakes soccer where the team would play flashy soccer and return to contention. However, Almeyda’s stubbornness cost them a lot as teams figured out how to beat his tactics.
For a manager who was renowned for his tactics, his unique defensive and offensive schemes ultimately failed in the MLS with the novelty wearing out after one season. Defensively it’s been a mess, as the team has conceded 50 goals in his three full seasons with his manmarking being a failure. Even as teams began to tear his schemes apart, he refused to adapt, meaning that players had to figure out how to adapt on their own.
One area that Almeyda has truly succeeded in has been youth development, as he has been willing to give academy players a chance in a way that no manager before him had. Academy players and draft picks were allowed to be eased into the team and it did work. Cade, Beason and Yueill have all become interesting prospects thanks to the trust Almeyda put into them.
In this case, it feels that both parties are at fault to a certain extent, but it just feels that both sides had unrealistic hopes for the other. Almeyda hoped the club would bankroll the transfers he wanted and the club wanted him to operate in the margins which was always going to create frustration.
Quakes fans have had to suffer through a lot since the club’s success in 2012, as hope has been replaced with despair, as they can now make a claim for the worst run team in the MLS. Almeyda was supposed to be the manager who would help turn the club around and make ownership care. However, the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.
Featured Image: ESPN