Close Up: San Jose Earthquakes Year-in-Review

The Quakes returned to Major League Soccer wasn't smooth sailing, but a late-season run bodes well for the club's future.
By John Zielonka

The new/old San Jose Earthquakes returned as an expansion team after the original Quakes moved to Houston two years ago.  

Coach Frank Yallop emphasized defense in the makeup of his team.  He needed to add experience offensively to keep San Jose in the hunt for a playoff slot.  

The inability to get the offense and defense to click at the same time ultimately saw San Jose fade in the stretch. Keeper Joe Cannon and the rest of the backline allowed 38 goals during the season, the league’s fourth best total.  San Jose’s offense had trouble scoring goals early in the season and netted only 11 goals in their first 17 games, lowest in the MLS at that time.

The July arrival of midfielder Daren Huckerby drove San Jose out of their early season shutout funk and to the brink of making the playoffs.  His ability to move and turn allowed more room for his teammates to score and pass.  Huckerby’s skill, talent and experience led the team to a league best nine game unbeaten streak.  

The defense started to falter just as playoff run began in October.  They returned to the bottom of the conference after losing four of seven games, two in stoppage time.  The losses piled up and San Jose was eventually eliminated from the playoffs.

The Quakes run was remarkable for an expansion team.  Midseason trades bolstered a weak offense and came within striking distance of making the playoffs.  After an impressive record in August and September, fatigue may have set in the latter stages of the season.

Despite the up and down nature of their first season, San Jose, with minor additions and tweaking, can become a contender in 2009. presents a monthly synopsis of highlights, lowlights and other tidbits during the 2008 season:

January: Lewis Woff, owner of the Earthquakes and baseball’s Oakland A’s , contemplates involving  his  A’s GM Billy Beane  and his Moneyball statistical techniques in soccer.     

February: San Jose will play the majority of their games at Buckshaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University.  For larger crowds, the venue will be the Oakland Coliseum..  The team is negotiating with the city of San Jose to build a soccer specific stadium by 2011.

March: Coach Frank Yallop builds the team around keeper Joe Cannon, defender Nick Garcia and forwards Ronnie O’Brien and Ned Gravabov.  The team lacks depth up front, but is strong on defense.

April: The Earthquakes return to San Jose for the first time since the original franchise moved to Houston two years ago.  They play to a scoreless draw against the Chicago Fire.  They earn their first win of the season against the Rapids. Record: 1 win, 0 ties, 3 losses

May: San Jose emerges victorious in an emotional 2-1 first home win against the Dynamo (the old Earthquakes).  James Riley returns to New England after spending three years with the Revs.  His homecoming includes scoring a howler own-goal that leads to another San Jose loss.  Record: 1 win, 1 tie, 2 losses

June: Ronnie O'Brien dominates in a 2-0 away win against the Columbus Crew.  The inability to score goals remains a problem with eight shutouts in 14 games.  Record: 1 win, 2 ties, 2 losses

July: San Jose acquires rights from Toronto FC for English striker Darren Huckerby and signs him to a contact.   Team has MLS' worst scoring total, with only 12 goals in 18 games..  Midfielder/defender Ivan Guerrero is sent to D.C. United.  Record: 0 wins, 2 ties, 2 losses

August: Darren Huckerby leads the ‘Quakes of out last place in the Western Conference by scoring three goals and three assists since joining the team.   Ronnie O’Brien scores two goals in a 4-0 annihilation of the New England Revolution.  The team is two points out of a playoff spot with eight games remaining.  Record: 3 wins, 1 tie, 0 losses

September: Huckerby is  named MLS Player of the Month after scoring three times and assisting once.  ‘Quakes unbeaten streak ends at nine games after loss to Real Salt Lake.  San Jose returns to last place in the Western Conference and needs five points to make the playoffs.  The away match with the Dynamo is postponed due to hurricane damage in the Houston area.  Record: 1 win, 1 tie, 1 loss

October:  Relationship is announced with English Premier League Tottenham Hotspur FC.  Kansas City shutout win eliminates San Jose from playoff contention.   Earthquakes finish season with 2-0 win against Toronto FC.  Record: 1 win, 1 tie, 3 losses

November:  Darren Huckerby named MLS Newcomer of the Year and ‘Quakes Most Valuable Player.

December: Coaching staff visits Tottentam Hotspur to exchange ideas on training techniques, infrastructure and commercial development.

John Zielonka is the correspondent in Seattle, Washington.