In 2015 San Jose Earthquakes opened a shiny new venue, Avaya Stadium, and welcomed one of their own back to the fold, head coach Dom Kinnear. Kinnear, an assistant on the San Jose teams that lifted the MLS Cup in 2001 and 2003 and head coach of the last Earthquakes 1.0 side before relocation to Houston, returned to take over a floundering franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2012.
The result didn’t exactly live up to the expectations, as a series of injuries decimated the Quakes and created a hole the club couldn’t climb out of in time to make the playoff field.
San Jose did manage to identify two young midfield talents in Fatai Alashe and Marc Pelosi, and there’s reason to think a little more luck and a lot more consistency on the lineup and formation front will lead to a better finish in 2016.
The Big Question
Has MLS passed Dom Kinnear by? During his time in Houston, Kinnear earned a reputation for getting the most out of limited rosters. Kinnear became a master at slow-playing his way into the playoffs, then guiding his team deep into the tournament with cunning tactics. Kinnear won two titles and made two other MLS Cup finals with that method while in charge of the Dynamo, the most recent appearance coming back in 2012.
That’s not all that long ago, and yet MLS is moving into the future at a rapid clip and it’s worth wondering if the league is passing Kinnear by. The old ways that worked for so long are giving way to new approaches brought to MLS by young coaches from both the United States and abroad. Kinnear is a steady influence and still knows some tricks for getting by in MLS. But the days of his hacking the system to win conference championship and MLS Cups might be over.
One of the league’s most unassuming players, Chris Wondolowski remains one of its most potent strikers, even at the age of 31. Wondolowski followed up 2014’s 14-goal tally with another 16 in 2015, his sixth straight double-digit year (a league record).
Wondolowski’s greatest skill doesn’t turn on his athletic ability, so it’s quite possible he could go deep into his thirties putting up big goal totals year after year. The knack of showing up in the right spot just in time to flick the ball into the back of the net sets Wondolowski apart from players around the league who rely on speed or power to score their goals. As long as Wondolowski is allowed to play and poach, the Earthquakes can count on him to bag his usual share of goals.
That’s the rub, though. Kinnear’s task in 2016 is smooth out some of the rough patches from last year, specifically those that required Wondolowski to be pulled away from goals and into a central midfield position at times. The return of Simon Dawkins, a one-time Quake who signed from Derby County this winter, should alleviate some of the concerns about getting Wondolowski proper service.
From The Dugout
A year after returning to the club where he earned his coaching stripes, Glasgow-born Dominic Kinnear has set a simple task for his players. “I think we're a better team, and now we have to improve upon 13 wins,”. he said. “I think 14 or 15 was always the barometer to get into the playoffs and obviously that's our primary goal. And then as anybody knows, when you get into those playoffs, some crazy stuff can happen and you could be lifting trophies. The Western Conference got stronger, too, some teams made some good additions, so our work's cut out for us for sure. But we're not going to be an easy team to beat this year.”
In 2015, Kinnear alternated between 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2, and he may remain fluid. “I’m not a huge numbers guy, but sometimes we flooded the midfield and sometimes we went a little bit basic,” he explained. “It all depends on personnel and the health of your squad to see what you can do. I don't think we're married to one system or one formation, because if that were the case we might be banging our heads against the wall because of call-ups or injuries.”
Whatever their formation, there is a perception in some quarters that San Jose's style isn't easy on the eye – not that Kinnear cares. “I really don't pay attention too much to what's being said in internetland,” he insisted. “I have a lot of stuff going on right now, so for me to worry about other peoples' opinions is bad by my part because my concentration's with the team. For whatever reason, Houston when I was there, and even San Jose, has always been knocked down a little bit as far as style of play goes. But you can't change peoples' minds.”
From the Locker Room
Even months later, Chris Wondoloski still feels the sting of that disappointing failure to make the playoffs. “I would trade every goal I have for the Cup,” says Wondolowski. “It would mean a lot.”
Part of the reason the Earthquakes weren’t satisfied with their season was that missing the playoffs ruined the celebration of the team’s new home ground. “Avaya Stadium is beautiful,” says Wondolowski. “It’s a great home field advantage for us. We want it to be a fortress.”
Earthquakes coach Dom Kinnear will lead the team’s effort in 2016 to return to Cup contention. “I’ve always had such respect for Dom,” says Wondolowski. “He held us all accountable. That’s something that really helped to spur us on.”
Kinnear has long been a coach able to maximize his available talent and a formation change may even be implemented to help Wondolowski be more effective. “It’s going to be interesting to see how tactically we go about the games,” says the Earthquakes forward.
For the long grind of an MLS season, roster depth is important. “We’ve been addressing that,” says Wondolowski. “That’s something it’s crucial.”
This is Home
- AVAYA STADIUM
- CAPACITY: 18,000
- OPENED: March 22, 2015
- LOCATION: San Jose, CA
Fan’s Insider Tip
San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes): Avaya Stadium is conveniently located across the street from Mineta San Jose International Airport, where two major freeways converge for easy transportation. The stadium is a short two-mile drive to downtown San Jose, where you can find a little bit of everything. In the heart of downtown is the San Pedro Square Market Building, the meet-up place for food, live music, local shops and even a bit of history.
Sitting in the middle of the outdoor plaza is the historic Peralta Adobe, the oldest building in San Jose. Once you get to Avaya Stadium, arrive right when gates open and head straight to the 1.3-acre 7UP Epicenter, featuring the largest outdoor bar in North America – located directly beneath the video board. The grass area immediately adjacent contains local food trucks, youth activities and more.
Make sure to swing by the Beers of the World at the south end of the stadium for rotating options, and a scarf display with scarves from around the world. Tailgating is allowed in all parking lots except the VIP lot, and you find the various supporter groups here to find where they hang out before the game.