With a new stadium complex on the way, the Earthquakes know on-field success must follow sooner rather than later.SAN JOSE, Calif. – It requires a little bit of imagination to see the future of the San Jose Earthquakes.
The Nutrilite Training Facility is already in place on Coleman Avenue, but the 18,000-seat stadium, the hotel, the office and retail space and the youth soccer fields remain promising sketches rendered on a computer.
For now, the Earthquakes' home is the training field, a series of adjacent plots filled by industrial debris and a college stadium and an office building located across the CalTrain tracks in Santa Clara. It may not look like much at the moment, but it is a promise of the greater things to come after the San Jose Planning Commission removed the final procedural hurdle to stadium construction on Feb. 22.
“When you look over there now, it's a bunch of trucks and empty ground,” Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop said last week as he glanced at the site adjacent to the training facility. “When you look over there and there's a stadium and you've got fields all the way down over here, it feels like a home. Once you build that, everything will come around the stadium.”
Yallop and general manager John Doyle can't afford to wait for that halo effect to take hold in a couple of years. They watched their team squander the momentum generated by a surprising run to the Eastern Conference final in 2010 due to a mix of absences, injuries and poor performances last year. A bright future is one thing, but a profitable present required immediate action to rectify several concerns.
The duo used the increased amount of resources available to make additions to address the dearth of creativity in midfield (Tressor Moreno), the lack of pace in the wide areas (Marvin Chávez and Shea Salinas) and the injury-plagued central defense corps (Victor Bernárdez). They also secured returns for the young and the talented (Simon Dawkins) and the previously injured or otherwise unavailable (Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart). They even cut ties with a gifted and temperamental figure all but excommunicated from the squad last season (Bobby Convey).
“We wanted to identify (where we wanted to improve) and get it done early,” Yallop said. “We wanted to go into preseason with all of our pieces in place. Simon was the latest one, but we know Simon pretty well. I'm sure at some point, he'll find himself in the team.”
Dawkins may need to wait a week or two to see his name on the team sheet, but his presence – among others – will prove critical to the Earthquakes' success this season for one simple reason: Chris Wondolowski can't continue to sustain the club by himself.
Wondolowski has scored 35 of the Earthquakes' past 75 goals (34 in 74 over the past two seasons, plus one out of one in Saturday's season-opening 1-0 win over New England). It is an impressive strike rate, no doubt, but the prospect of one player scoring 47 percent of his side's goals isn't a practicable one over the long haul.
By importing Chavez, Moreno and Salinas and retaining Dawkins, Gordon and especially the pugnacious Lenhart (absent through personal leave during the second half of last season), the Earthquakes hope Wondolowski won't have to carry as much of the load in 2012. It isn't that Wondolowski can't shoulder the burden – Yallop said he thrives on the pressure of scoring – but that he shouldn't have to do it.
The 29-year-old U.S. international striker noticed the improvements made during the offseason and lauded the plentiful avenues to goal now in place, but he noted that his job won't change much even with the additional reinforcements.
“I'm just going to take it like every other season: try to get the W first, and then we'll be able to create some opportunities,” Wondolowski said. “It's my job to be on the end of them and finish them if I get the chance. I just play (the game).”
Those games remain the most important objective for the club in the short-term. Most of the pieces are in place for an improved showing this season, but the route to a playoff berth in the packed Western Conference remains a treacherous road. It will take a significant improvement from last season's performances – and even the victory against the Revolution – to make it a viable one.
“On the whole, we just need hold each other accountable more and just expect more from each other,” Earthquakes midfielder Sam Cronin said before the season opener. “We have to play better, that's the bottom line. We've improved. We have the players to do that. We're expecting to have a better season.”
With all of the off-the-field components starting to fall into the place, the only segment left to fix operates between the sidelines. The vision for the club isn't quite complete without a perennial contender to feature in that new stadium. It is down to the players and the technical staff to ensure that the final piece in this grand plan falls neatly into place by the time their new home finally arrives.
“All the players are excited,” Cronin said. “It's nice to know that the front office and the organization is fighting tooth and nail for the players, trying to get everything quality for us. We're very thankful for that. We need to repay them with our efforts on the field.”
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