After a season below the Playoff line, the San Jose Earthquakes will be looking to bounce back in 2022.
A giant of the early years in Major League Soccer, the Quakes have made the post-season just twice in their last nine seasons. However, there's rarely a dull moment in San Jose so even if the results don't come, SJE are always worth your time.
Can they convert fun into results this time?
Here's everything you need to know about the San Jose Earthquakes ahead of the new MLS season, including tactics, key players, and predictions.
How did San Jose Earthquakes perform in 2021?
Though they lost far fewer games than those around them, the Quakes could only finish 10th in the Western Conference last season, drawing far too many games and struggling to hold onto results.
Nothing illustrated that issue more than their 10-game unbeaten run in the summer, during which they won just three times.
San Jose generally attacked pretty well but, as has often been the case under Matias Almeyda, they couldn't defend, giving up too many goals and throwing away too many leads to seriously challenge the top seven.
San Jose Earthquakes transfer activity
- Jamiro Monteiro (from Philadelphia Union, $250k)
- Jan Gregus (from Minnesota United, free transfer)
- Francisco Calvo (from Chicago Fire, free transfer)
- Will Richmond (from Stanford Cardinal, free transfer)
- Oskar Agren (SuperDraft)
- Ousseni Bouda (SuperDraft)
- Andres Rios (to Aldosivi, free transfer)
- Luciano Abecasis (to Banfield, free transfer)
- Eric Calvillo (to El Paso, free transfer)
- Tommy Williamson (to Minnesota United 2, free transfer)
- Carlos Fierro (to Juarez, free transfer)
- Jacob Akanyirige (released)
- Chris Wondolowski (retired)
- Daniel Vega (retired)
Matias Almeyda: Tactics and style of play
For the first half of 2021, Almeyda did the same thing he always does. 4-2-3-1 with intense man-marking out of possession. Every player has to win their individual battles for the system to come off and often, they didn't. So, the Quakes were hella fun, but would fall apart at the back like leaves blowing in the wind.
So, midway through the season, he did something very un-Almeyda but pumping the breaks on man-marking and relentless pressing, in favor of a more rigid, disciplined defensive shape.
San Jose lost a lot up-front but did become far more robust defensively. Now, Almeyda must sprinkle the right amount of fun over his newfound defensive resilience to make a team that can qualify for the Playoffs.
San Jose Earthquakes predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Marcinkowski; Thompson, Nathan, Beason, Lopez; Judson, Yueill; Espinoza, Monteiro, Cowell; Ebobisse.
Who are San Jose Earthquakes' key players?
Nathan made his Quakes debut in a draw with Minnesota United in early July, a game that marked the start of their 10-game unbeaten streak. That was no coincidence, either.
The Brazilian center-back was a calming presence in the San Jose backline, winning the duels he needed to win, making important tackles, and playing out from the back with composure.
He's everything Almeyda has always needed in a center-back, but will need to repeat his fine form in 2022 if the Quakes are to remain competitive.
It's a big season for the Sane Jose Earthquakes but on an individual level, it's probably even bigger for Cade Cowell.
Just 18 years old, the USMNT prospect is already heading into his third senior season with the Quakes with the ink still drying on a brand new contract.
That deal will undoubtedly increase his value, as will an improvement on the five goals and five assists he notched last season - a modest total, but promising for a player of his age. End product aside, his speed, skill, dribbling, and immense stature are already catching the eye.
Cowell is already being tracked by European giants like Barcelona, so the pressure is well and truly on for him this year. He needs to show he can be the focal point of an attack.
In many ways, Cristian Espinoza is the physical embodiment of Almeyda's Quakes. Moments of pure wizardry and brilliance and a good two or three-game run here and there. Then a month of anonymity and frustration.
Last season, the Argentine winger managed just three goals and eight assists in 32 MLS appearances, with far too many dry patches for a player who is supposed to anchor his team's attack.
But Espinoza is a former Argentina youth international for a reason. He has immense talent. If Almeyda continues with a structured system, Espinoza could easily be the one to open things up in the final third - 2022 may be the year he finally explodes in MLS.
San Jose Earthquakes 2022 season prediction
Notice how every time we talked up the Quakes' chances of success above, we said 'if'? It's such a huge 'if' as well.
It all depends on if Almeyda brings more structure to his team. If Espinoza can have a consistent season. If Ebobisse can score enough goals at one end and Nathan keep them out at the other. You get the picture...
The Quakes are that fun that we hope to be proved wrong, but there's just too much to do for a Playoff run, while it could go disastrously wrong if Almeyda reverts to his tactical type.
Prediction: 14th in the Western Conference