After a blistering start to life for the Quakes under Alex Covelo, things have started to cool off with a string of poor results. For the most part, the offense has looked great, as the team can seemingly score at will. However, as it was under Almeyda, the Achilles’ heel of this side has been their woeful defense.
Covelo’s tenure has been positive so far, with his first month in charge being full of great moments that seemingly signaled a new era of the Quakes. Starting with the draw against Colorado, the team has run into a rough patch with two straight losses.
To be clear, the offense has been incredible with Ebobisse and Monteiro’s play being worth the price of admission. Ebobisse has a real chance to win the golden boot this year with Covelo’s system playing right into his skills. Monteiro looks like the playmaker that the Quakes have desperately needed in years and Espinoza looks like he’s back to his old self.
It’s been close to a decade since the Quakes had a legit defense that could actually stifle opponents. The defensive personnel this season has really limited the team’s success despite some good moments from individuals. From no clearer center back pairing to a lack of an MLS starting caliber right back, there is blame to be found all around for the team’s poor defensive performances.
It would be a lot more gloomy if the offense wasn’t elite, as the trio of Ebobisse, Espinoza and Monteiro have proved to be one of the better partnerships in the league. However, no matter the chances their offense creates, it seems that it will all be undone by their defense.
In the last few days of the summer transfer window, the Quakes managed to pull off a trade that shocked many MLS fans. For a relatively cheap fee, the Quakes acquired Jeremy Ebobisse, who has now helped transform the Quakes.
Ebobisse is the player that the Quakes have been trying to find for years, the perfect replacement for Wondo. Currently leading the golden boot race with 9 goals, Ebobisse is putting together a case for the most impressive season by a Quakes striker since Wondo in 2012. For years, the Quakes have cycled through strikers from Danny Hoesen to Marcos Ureña with the hope that they could replace Wondo.
Not only is he a great scorer, but he can drop back and help move the ball forward alongside the other playmakers. This is seen in the fact that he is in the 81st percentile in terms of progressive passes, meaning that he can contribute to the offense in other ways than just scoring. In a way, this is just as important as his scoring prowess, as he can create for others which opens up more space for himself.
Another one of general manager Chris Leitch’s moves is paying off with Jamiro Monteiro being the playmaker that the Quakes have desperately needed for years. The reason why this move has paid off is that Monteiro understands the league in a way previous Quakes playmakers haven’t.
Monteiro’s ability to operate in the space provided to him by the wingers and Ebobisse allows him to dictate play and find his way into the box to finish chances. Espinoza also deserves some recognition, as he finally seems to be fitting his form of old after a rough few seasons.
There is no doubt that the Quakes have an elite offense with a top striker flanked by great playmakers willing to operate in any space given. It’s what makes the current predicament so frustrating, as if they had a competent defense, they could really challenge in the west.
Despite having a moderately good chance at qualifying for the playoffs and an elite offense, the Quakes remain near the bottom of the table due to their defense. Even in the Open Cup matchup against the Sacramento Republic, their defensive scheme was torn apart by the USL side.
A lot of their struggles defensively can be somewhat attributed to the lack of a clear center back pairing. It’s a weird situation as individually, the players have performed well with Calvo somehow near the top of the league in terms of interceptions. Rather it’s that none of the players’ play styles seem to mesh with each other.
Maybe with more time a center back pairing will start to work, as with Calvo out for international duty, it should give Beason and Nathan a chance to develop some chemistry. Nathan’s injury and Almeyda’s choice to play Yueill at center back definitely aided the lack of chemistry. However, with so much of the season gone, this shouldn’t still be an issue.
Another area that surely hurts their defense, as evident in the previous two games, is the lack of an MLS caliber right back and left back option when López is out. Both Marie and Thompson are fine players who give their all when they play, but they’re not at the level to start week in and out. If both players could be options off the bench, it would suit both players and the team much better.
With some salary space, and potential DP spot should Chofis leave, available for the Quakes, the front office could aim for a quality right back in the summer window. Someone like a Julian Gressel would be perfect, a MLS vet on a struggling team that may be willing to move him for cheap. Gressel has been a contributor on MLS title teams and could make the right back spot his own for years given his age.
The Quakes desperately need a change in fortunes defensively if they want to at least have a better chance at qualifying for the playoffs. With the summer transfer window approaching, it may be time for the front office to step in and help figure out a plan to fix their defense.
As the good start under Covelo starts to end, the Quakes will desperately need to find a way to have their defense match their elite offense. Whether that be through the front office making moves or the coaching staff finding a defensive pairing that works, the Quakes need to figure things out soon. It would be a shame for this season to waste the output of the great performances by the attackers.
Featured image: Xavier Mascareñas