San Jose Earthquakes fans are ready for the Matias Almeyda era to begin.
Last year was tough for MLS fans in Northern California. The Quakes managed just four victories and earned 21 points in the campaign. That made it the worst season for any MLS team since D.C. United's 2013 season.
Now, Almeyda has arrived, and - despite a few rumors to the contrary - appears to be ready to get to work. The team went to Mexico for a long, grueling training camp, but perhaps more important than getting players in shape was changing the mindset.
"Last year was so difficult because even when we played well, we found ways to lose. At the end of the season, we were just defeated. There was very little hope, very little motivation," veteran midfielder Shea Salinas told Goal. "Getting a new coach to come in and change the mentality has given us hope."
Players are buying into the methods Almeyda used successfully with Chivas, where he won the league, cup and Concacaf Champions League before falling out with the directors and leaving in the summer. That said, it may make time for the Argentine's players to get acustomed to the system, which calls for strict man-marking and requires a fair amount of physical exertion from each player.
"He demands it. He says, 'Chase your player everywhere he goes.' It’s not everywhere he goes, but if a man comes into my zone, I have to be really tight, don’t give him any space to turn or dribble. I have to take the ball or I have to take him down," Quakes defender Guram Kashia told Goal. "It’s something that really excites me. I’m excited to take this challenge for myself and see how far we can go with it."
Whether or not Almeyda has the players needed to execute his demanding system remains to be seen. But for the first time in a long while there's resaon for optimism around Avaya Stadium.
How did the San Jose Earthquakes perform in 2018?
2018 finish: Last in the Western Conference (4-21-9)
The Quakes could count their wins on one hand last season, with coach Mikael Stahre being let go in September - though by that point it already was clear the Quakes weren't going to be able to get into the postseason.
San Jose Earthquakes' key offseason losses
For a team that was as poor as the Earthquakes last season, there weren't many departures. Jahmir Hyka left for Isreal on a free transfer after his contract option was declined.
A number of players from last year's team found a home in the USL Championship, including Dominique Oduro, who is headed for Charlotte and Chris Wehan, who signed with New Mexico FC.
San Jose Earthquakes' key offseason additions
Marcos Lopez, a Peru international, was signed from Sporting Cristal in the winter to lock down the left back position. He'll be joined by an Argentine winger as well. Despite Almeyda's River Plate connections, former Boca winger Cristian Espinoza joined on loan from Villarreal.
Espinoza's countryman Daniel Vega, a former River goalkeeper who already played in the U.S. with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, was signed to contend for the starting goalkeeper job.
In the midfield, Judson joined on loan from second-division Brazilian club Tombense.
Full San Jose Earthquakes roster entering 2019 season
Goalkeepers: Matt Bersano, JT Marcinkowski, Andrew Tarbell, Daniel Vega
Defenders: Francois Affolter, Jacob Akanyirige, Harold Cummings, Guram Kashia, Nick Lima, Marcos Lopez, Paul Marie, Jimmy Ockford, Joel Qwiberg
Midfielders: Eric Calvillo, Magnus Eriksson, Luis Felipe, Gilbert Fuentes, Anibal Godoy, Siad Haji, Florian Jungwirth, Kevin Partida, Vako, Shea Salinas, Judson, Tommy Thompson, Jackson Yueill
Forwards: Chris Wondolowski, Cade Cowell, Danny Hoesen, Cristian Espinoza
San Jose Earthquakes projected starting lineup
Almeyda doesn't have an obvious fill-in for the "Rodolfo Pizarro role", the free-ranging attacking position the Mexico international played as Chivas won the league-cup double and later Concacaf Champions League under Almeyda's watch. Georgia international Vako and Swedish midfielder Magnus Eriksson will be in part responsible for getting the ball to forward Danny Hoesen - though exactly what that looks like on the field is yet to be seen. Chris Wondolowski also will get minutes as he looks to become MLS' all-time leading scorer.
Further back, Judson and Anibal Godoy will look to keep the Quakes less suceptible to teams hitting them on the break than they were last year.
New arrival Marcos Lopez and rising right back Nick Lima have made the outside back position an area of strength for the Quakes, unlike many teams around the league.
Veteran goalkeeper Daniel Vega looks to have won the job in the offseason, though he may be pushed by U.S. youth internatioal JT Marcinkowski. The Quakes have four goalkeepers on the roster right now, so one likely will spend time with USL affiliate Reno.
San Jose Earthquakes' national TV coverage
- New York Red Bulls vs. San Jose Earthquakes - Saturday, March 16, at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision
- San Jose Earthquakes vs. LAFC - Saturday, March 30, at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision
- Houston Dynamo vs. San Jose Earthquakes - Saturday, April 13 at 3 p.m. ET on Univision
- FC Dallas vs. San Jose Earthquakes - Saturday, April 27, at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision
- San Jose Earthquakes vs. Chicago Fire - Saturday, May 13 at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision
- San Jose Earthqaukes vs. FC Dallas - Saturday, June 8 at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision
- LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes - Friday, July 12 at 11 p.m. ET on Unimas
- LAFC vs. San Jose Earthquakes - Wednesday, August 21 at 10:30 p.m. ET on Unimas
- Atlanta United vs. San Jose Earthquakes - Saturday, September 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision