2009 was essentially year two of expansionism, says Andrea Canales of the San Jose Earthquakes.
In 2009, the San Jose Earthquakes could not win a road game for most of the season. In some ways, this was due to a lack of cohesion among the players, as a high turnover from the 2008 season killed much of the team's continuity and doomed them to a second expansion year, of sorts.
The club also suffered from injuries to crucial players, most notably 2008's Newcomer of the Year, Darren Huckerby. The rangy forward only arrived midway through the 2008 season, providing an important spark to the team at the time. However, Huckerby would go on to play even less games in 2009 (only 11) because of hip issues. He had surgery late in the season and indicated he would retire.
Injuries to important defenders, namely Ryan Cochrane and Jason Hernandez, left San Jose reeling.
There were chemistry issues, also, with some of the new players coach Frank Yallop brought in to improve the team. Bobby Convey in particular, seemed uninspired in his transition from England to MLS. He did not come close to making up for the departures of Scott Sealy and Ronnie O'Brien.
What went right?
An unexpected positive contribution, though, came from another midfielder, Brandon McDonald. The little-heralded addition to the squad became a major force in the middle, to the point where he earned a USA national team call-up.
Young forward Ryan Johnson led the team with 11 goals, showing a nose for the goal that bewildered opposing defenders.
The Quakes actually finished the year on a bit of a roll. Their most impressive victory was their first road win, which came away to DC United. Though it couldn't salvage the season for the California team, it went a long way to keeping United out of the playoffs.
What the team should do differently?
Less is more when it comes to the Quakes, who made a lot of moves after their first season back in the league. However, many of those changes backfired. Yallop would do well to consider standing pat and continuing the improvement of the players whose development leaped forward even as the team struggled.
However, if there is a way for the team to jettison Convey's salary, that particular move might be in order.
What changes will be made?
In some ways, the biggest priority for the San Jose Earthquakes isn't on the field. The team needs to close a stadium deal, or it could find itself in a similar situation as that which caused the city to lose the team in the first place.
More than a designated player or a big-name coach, the Quakes need a permanent home in a stadium that fans can be proud to call their own for many years to come. Buck Shaw is intimate, but it certainly doesn't give supporters the assurance that their team is invested in the community in a way that makes any future relocation all but impossible.
Such a stadium deal has been slow in coming, but in September, club owner Lewis Wolff released artist renderings of the new stadium.
What will happen next year?
The nostalgia over bringing Yallop back to the city where he won two championships has faded after two straight seasons of missing the playoffs.
Johnson needs an effective partner up top, so Yallop will roll the dice with a few key signings. If they do not produce, the team may lose the little confidence they have left after two struggling seasons.
Though once one of the founding teams of MLS, the Quakes are basically now an expansion team, and that made Seattle's fine season this year, as well as Real Salt Lake's championship, sting a bit. Basically, those teams proved that expansionism is no excuse for lack of performance.
Even if a stadium deal gets built, San Jose fans will want to follow a winning team there, so Yallop needs to continue the momentum the team gathered.
San Jose's strength is a grass-roots, blue-collar work ethic, but the club needs a couple more sparkplugs to control the ball well in midfield and create opportunities for the club.
Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of Goal.com North America
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