With MLS heading for a break, the Quakes will play in the Leagues Cup.
This will be a brief break before the season’s most important stretch is played; it’s also a time to reflect on the season so far.
Coming into the season, expectations amongst fans were mixed, but above all, positive developments had to be shown. Luchi’s reign has given fans just that, but there’s still room to grow.
At the core of the positives is the implementation of Luchi’s culture. That and a smart transfer policy have seen the Quakes jump up the table. Powered by Espinoza, there has also been a resurgence for many players.
Even this great season has some areas of improvement. While the starting eleven is well-built, the subs have left fans wanting. Yes, the front office could bring in some new players, but Luchi has got to get better with game management.
For the past decade, the Quakes have been wandering the desert without any sort of place, lagging behind the rest of MLS. Despite drawbacks, this is the best season in San Jose in almost a decade.
Manager // A-
Luchi was an unknown variable for most Quakes fans. A relatively untested manager whose best results came from working in youth setups.
When the season ends, the manager will end with plenty of votes for the Manager of the Year award. He’s taken a struggling side and brought stability to the Bay off a tough defense and veteran leadership. In a way, it’s totally opposite to previous managers who tried to play attacking soccer with their own players.
Starting the season on fire, scoring in bunches, Luchi has found stability by betting on the defense. By reverting back to a 4-3-3 with a defensive anchor, the team can absorb more pressure and punish teams on the counter. And then he allows his fullbacks and wingers to stretch the field and open lanes in the attack.
A real knock on Luchi has to be his game management. Struggling with both the correct subs and timing has been his Achilles heel. This should, hopefully, be fixed in time, but incremental improvements can help the team down the stretch.
In his first season, Luchi and his staff are building a winning culture that can usher in a new era in San Jose. This season may not end in a cup victory, yet just making the playoffs will feel euphoric.
Front Office // A
If Leitch’s policy can be summed up in a few words, it would be “MLS fit.” The focus is almost entirely on getting veterans with top-flight experience that fit in MLS.
Ebobisse is the biggest win so far for this new front office. They bet big on a player they saw as having untapped potential but had valuable experience. It was an impressive get for a fee that fits into the Quakes’ budget.
Other transfers, especially those made in 2022, brought in players with experience either in Europe or the Brazilian leagues. These players are some of the most valuable in the squad and have provided vital contributions. Moves like these reek of a revamped scouting system that aims to find pieces who can play in MLS.
With a starting eleven full of high-performing players, it’s a shame that the rest of the roster is a little bare. It’s in these spots that Leitch could find more MLS players who could contribute. Especially in this transfer window, with some teams willing to blow it up, players like this can be found.
Before Leitch, Fiorelli was operating the Quakes as he would a European side, oblivious to the changing MLS. It’s refreshing to see a general manager adapt to the new landscape and be willing to implement his own style.
Players // A-
Since 2012, the Quakes have fluctuated from being a team full of talented individuals with no chemistry to a team with cohesion but no stars. This season, they’ve proven to be a fun side that is willing to go to war for one another.
It all begins and ends with the MVP candidate, Cristian Espinoza. The Argentine is putting together a career year, having already broken the all-time assist record for the Quakes. So much of the team is built around him, and games are decided by him.
Espinoza isn’t the only player having a great year, as Rodrigues has an argument for being the best defender in MLS. Similarly, Daniel is surely in contention for the golden glove, with his performances bailing the Quakes out. In the midfield, all three starters have been excellent, but Gruezo is the one who’s had the biggest impact.
Fortunately for the Quakes, there are very few players who have had bad seasons. Both Kikanović and Marie have regressed, showing that they’re not MLS starters. Although he’s had his moments, Ebobisse has gone through a concerning amount of goalless streaks thus far.
This could be the best side that the team has fielded in terms of the talent oozing at every position. It has to be encouraging that all these players are playing in a cohesive manner and winning.
Fans are getting to watch the best season that the Quakes have had in over a decade. Due partly to smart transfers and great player performances, Luchi is getting the most out of this team.
With a critical period coming up, fans have to hope that these positive developments aren’t just fool’s gold.
Photo: San Jose Earthquakes