Cupertino Courier

Three keys to reversing downturn, shocking MLS

San Jose Earthquake­s possess young talent for turnaround under new coach Luchi Gonzalez

- By Harold Gutmann Correspond­ent

As Luchi Gonzalez starts his tenure with the San Jose Earthquake­s, he hopes to do something no Quakes coach has done since 2010: win a playoff series.

Gonzalez won a playoff round with FC Dallas in 2020, part of his three-year stint as manager there. He then was an assistant coach with the U.S. Men's National Team through the 2022 World Cup before joining the Quakes, who celebrated the 20th anniversar­y of their 2003 MLS Cup championsh­ip squad in the home opener in front of an announced sellout crowd of 18,000 at Paypal Park March 4.

Gonzalez takes over from Matias Almeyda, who had a history of turning around clubs in Mexico and Argentina but wasn't able to continue that success in threeplus seasons in San Jose.

The Quakes went 2-1 against MLS competitio­n this preseason under Gonzalez.

“I felt we accomplish­ed a lot of those objectives and building the brotherhoo­d with the group, in terms of our team values and culture, and our playing identity and playing style,” Gonzalez said. “We're excited to .. start the beginning of 2023, and show what we are capable of doing.”

The Quakes' 12-year run without advancing in the playoffs is the second-longest drought in MLS history behind the Chicago

Fire, who haven't won a round since 2009.

The oddsmakers aren't keen on a playoff breakthrou­gh happening this year — Draftkings had the Quakes tied with expansion team St. Louis City SC for the worst odds to win the 14-team Western Conference at 50-1.

Here are the keys if the Quakes hope to overcome those expectatio­ns and their recent history:

Youth developmen­t

Gonzalez had a strong track record of developing talent during his time as the academy coach at FC Dallas.

That makes him a good fit for the Quakes, who may have three players at the U20 World Cup this year. Forward Cade Cowell, 19, midfielder Niko Tsakiris, 17, and midfielder Cruz Medina, 16, are indicative of the promising young players in the Quakes pipeline.

Cowell in particular is a rising star who has generated interest from top European clubs like AC Milan, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Newcastle, according to soccer news website 90min. Cowell, a speedy winger, has nine goals and 12 assists since making his MLS debut in 2020.

At FC Dallas, where Gonzalez was the team's academy director from 2012-18 before coaching the first team from 2019-21, Gonzalez developed U.S. National Team players Weston Mckennie, Chris Richards, Jesus Ferreira and Kellyn Acosta.

Revamped defense

The Quakes scored 52 goals last season, the fifth-most in the 14team Western Conference, but finished in last place because they allowed 69 goals, 12 more than any other team.

Part of that was due to the open system employed by Almeyda, but the players on the back line played a role as well.

Gonzalez should have the team more organized and compact in the back this season, but the front office also worked to improve the

talent level.

Ghana National Team defender Jonathan Mensah was acquired on Feb. 10 from Columbus, where he was a team captain, won the MLS Cup and was an MLS Best XI selection in 2020. Mensah's arrival came just days after Nathan, who was expected to start at centerback for the Quakes, tore his ACL in a preseason friendly.

Mensah will lead a back line full of recent arrivals. Peruvian left back Miguel Trauco, who came from France's League 1, was signed in September. Equatorial Guinea fullback Carlos Akapo, who came from La Liga in Spain, and Brazilian centerback Rodriguez were both signed in August.

There will also be a competitio­n at goalie between JT Marcinkows­ki, the team's starter for the past two years, and Daniel, a Brazilian who allowed 74 goals in 83 matches for Internacio­nal in Brazil's top division.

Big signing

The Quakes spent a club-record transfer fee to bring in Ecuador National Team veteran Carlos Gruezo from German Bundesliga side FC Augsburg. The defensive midfielder may not play the most heralded position, but the Quakes hope that if Gruezo can control the middle of the pitch, it will free up the attacking players while helping the defense maintain its structure.

“Our process was to solidify and improve the midfield with a competitiv­e piece, an experience­d piece, depth, a leader on and off the field, someone that can be a great example in the locker room but also align himself with the way we want to play and our identity on the field, which is with a lot of intensity, a lot of urgency,” Gonzalez said.

Gruezo, 27, also brings a winning pedigree from his previous stint in MLS with FC Dallas. He won the Supporters Shield and the U.S. Open Cup during his 3 1/2 seasons with FC Dallas from 2016-19 before going to Germany.

He has made 47 appearance­s for Ecuador, including a start against Senegal in the 2022 World Cup.

 ?? NHAT V. MEYER — STAFF ARCHIVES ?? San Jose Earthquake­s forward Cade Cowell, who's generated interest from top European clubs, controls the ball against Houston Dynamo FC'S Griffin Dorsey during a game last season at Paypal Park in San Jose.
NHAT V. MEYER — STAFF ARCHIVES San Jose Earthquake­s forward Cade Cowell, who's generated interest from top European clubs, controls the ball against Houston Dynamo FC'S Griffin Dorsey during a game last season at Paypal Park in San Jose.

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