Another penalty shoot out ended the Quakes’ playoff hopes at the hands of Sporting KC. The season ended with a whimper despite promising to end in a bang. Luchi’s first season will be remembered for ending this way, but it’s a bit unfair.
Coming into this season, expectations were low for Luchi. Any sort of progress would be appreciated, but as the season went on, the expectations grew.
If one is to look at the season as a whole, it’s hard to be too negative about it. This was a team that had been one of the worst in MLS for a few seasons. Even if the way they collapsed was rough, they still made it further than they had since 2020.
On the other hand, the Quakes should have been a higher seed. For the first few months of the season, Luchi’s attack was tearing opponents apart. The total nullification of that potent attack has to be the most disappointing part of this season.
Most fans will be left with a bad taste in their mouth for just how exactly the season ended, but it was still a good season. There’s still plenty of work to be done, but for the first time in years, there is promise for the Quakes.
Almeyda’s tenure set the Quakes back a few seasons and Covelo’s brief stint failed to right the ship. Negativity and poor results were all that most MLS fans thought of when the Quakes came to mind and this is what Luchi had to fix.
He inherited a team that did have some talented players, but it needed someone to deliver a clear vision. By the end of the first month, it was clear that Luchi had instilled an ideology in this squad. Led by Espinoza, the attack stretched opponents apart to allow runners to crash into the box.
For the first few months, this worked and was highlighted in the win of the season, a defeat of LAFC at Levi’s. This was the highpoint of the season for this team. Espinoza was destined to be a MVP candidate and the defense improved to league average.
Even when the offense eventually stalled down the stretch, the defense stood strong. Luchi placed enormous faith in both Daniel and Rodrigues and they repaid him heavily.
Previous seasons had seen the Quakes ship goals almost just for fun. Luchi’s decision to go with Daniel in goal saw the Brazilian become one of the best keepers in the league. Despite the rotating door of partners, Rodrigues was the defensive leader for the team and was instrumental in the team’s record.
It’s a shame that the Quakes didn’t make the playoffs, but the progress is still there. This was a team that hovered around the top five teams in the west before a collapse. Even though this was Luchi’s first season here, he did exceed the expectations many had for him at the start.
Comparing this Quakes’ team to the one that ended the 2022 season shows just how well Luchi’s side performed. Just by pushing this team to playoff contention, the team was demonstrably better than last year.
In fairness, the expectations at the end of the season had changed for the manager and he failed to meet them. With the team exploding up the standings for most of the season, it’s disappointing to have seen them flame out the way they did.
To lose in a penalty shoot out is the worst feeling in soccer. However, what hurt more about this one was how avoidable playing in the play-in felt.
After the MLS restart, the Quakes had their fate in their hands. Win or draw most of their games and they avoid the dreaded play-in. Instead, the Quakes won two of their last eleven condemning them to the play-in.
To his credit, Luchi did try to get his team out of the funk, but nothing he tried really worked. Every game he was seemingly outwitted by the opposing coach or the team would find new ways to lose. The expectations got to him and the team, making them spiral down the standings.
However, the most disappointing thing about this side as things fell apart was the way the team struggled to close games. Too often Luchi’s men would get the opener and look like world beaters in the opening 30 minutes only to allow their opponents back in. This reeks of a team that was never fully confident in itself and no one could break them out of this mentality.
Perhaps this isn’t totally on Luchi, but Cowell’s regression frustrated all involved. The winger has shown little to no improvement since he burst onto the scene in 2020 and perhaps a move would be best. It got to the point this season where the team was just better off without him, especially with the emergence of Hoppe.
By July, most fans expected the Quakes to see out their relatively easy schedule and deliver San Jose its first home playoff game in over a decade. This collapse and its consequences is what makes a portion of the fanbase feel that this year was wasted.
Putting the emotions of the loss against KC aside, Luchi’s first season was mostly a success. Yes their late season collapse was tough, but the team made it further than any could have imagined. There is a platform by which the Quakes can build success on going into next season.
Featured image: San Jose Earthquakes