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Sleeper success on the cards?

The San Jose Earthquakes have to be hoping that the third year back as the only resurrected club in Major League Soccer is the charm. The Bay Area club will want to build on a new foundation after two difficult years. Now, with some savvy trade deals and new blood, the Quakes are looking to be the sleeper team of the West.

Coach Frank Yallop, who won MLS titles with the Quakes in 2001 and 2003,  is out to prove that he can once again be the team's architect of success.

Last season: If there's a season where missing the playoffs still leaves a team with hope and anticipation, that was the San Jose Earthquakes in 2008. 2009 was a different story, though it ended with the same outcome, another season of missing out on the scramble for the MLS trophy. However, the team's poor performance throughout 2009, when fans eagerly anticipated continued improvement, left a bad taste that hadn't existed the previous year.

San Jose was reduced to the role of spoiler, playing a huge part in denying D.C. United the chance to reach the playoffs by defeating the East Coast squad at RFK stadium.

Dearly Departed: Though there were many players Yallop jettisoned at the end of 2009, probably the one most missed will be Darren Huckerby, who stepped away from the game on his own accord when he retired. The English forward had provided a important boost to the squad in 2008, scoring almost at will upon his arrival in the American league. However, his injury struggles curtailed what seemed to be a promising MLS career, leaving San Jose fans to sigh about what might have been.

Shea Salinas, taken in the expansion draft to the Philadelphia Union, will be a notable absence because of his deft assists. San Jose will have to hope another player emerges with a gift to set up goals.

New Faces: Yallop shook up the team roster hard, relying on an infusion of youth from the draft. San Jose nabbed Ike Opara, Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour. Opara is a tall, effective defender who is expected to contribute a lot in his rookie year. Morrow and Beitashour will likely provide depth on the team and add cover in midfield and on the defense.

Where the Quakes really needed help, however, was in scoring, and Yallop brought in Eduardo just for that job. The Brazilian is an experienced striker who has played most recently in Switzerland for FC Basel. More crafty now that he doesn't have the speed he once had, Eduardo is expected to provide the cool finishing, leaving Ryan Johnson to take care of the hard running up top.

Season Storylines:

King Arturo: Will Arturo Alvarez finally mature to become the star the Earthquakes need him to be? For so long, Alvarez has been an exciting, skilled and technical player who has somehow still managed to shrug off any burden of actual responsibility for team performance. While he can leave the fans gaping in awe at some performances, Alvarez has been too inconsistent to really be the team leader. He's too unreliable to save the squad from itself. Now, however, he's cast his lot with El Salvador's national team, and perhaps being part of another underdog team in blue will rouse his instinct to battle against the odds.

Nothing Left To Lose: Freedom's just another word for playing like no game really matters, but time is running out on Bobby Convey's post-England funk. He's already fallen off the national team radar - hardly anyone remembers he was one of the youngest USA players in the 2006 World Cup. His impressive salary last year with the 'Quakes was completely unjustified by the midfielder's lackluster play. A move into the left back spot for part of the season actually yielded Convey's first Earthquakes goal, but he still needs to redeem himself and prove he's moved past his injury problems or he will definitely be waived.

Home Sweet Home: Now that a permanent stadium deal seems to be moving into place, perhaps the Quakes can actually enjoy intimate Buck Shaw Stadium without fearing it will become a permanent venue. Players often respond to feeling that management and community appreciate the sport, and playing on the proper stage for the game is something many look forward to.

Predicted Placement:
Continuity is the secret ingredient of success in MLS, and the Earthquakes should have learned important lessons from the growing pains of last season. A return to the postseason is in the cards.

Did you know? Frank Yallop was capped over fifty times for Canada and later coached their national team.

For more on Major League Soccer, visit Goal.com's MLS page

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