Following a horrendous, wooden-spoon 2018 season, expectations were low for the Quakes heading into last season. While the big-ticket managerial hire of Matias Almeyda and a few intriguing signings offered a bit of hope heading into the 2019 campaign, four games in it appeared that San Jose was in for another miserable season as they were outscored 14-2 en route to 4 successive humiliating defeats. However, Almeyda and co. impressively righted the ship and turned the Quakes into a legitimately good team through the middle of the season with the club reaching as high as 2nd in the Western Conference table. Unfortunately, San Jose’s season would sputter at the end and they missed the playoffs on the final day of the season.
This marked a disappointing end to a season that was otherwise very positive for the club with unforgettable moments (Wondo becoming the all-time MLS goal king) and breakthrough performances (Jackson Yueill’s rise to USMNT consideration) abound.
So how did the Quakes continue that positive momentum into the offseason? By doing virtually nothing. San Jose has surely been the least active club in the whole of MLS this winter and will enter the 2020 season with essentially the exact same roster that they ended the 2019 one with unless some major moves take place in the next few weeks. The only noteworthy addition is veteran Mexican center back Oswaldo Alanís who arrived on loan from Chivas Guadalajara.
The most notable departures from the club are midfielder Aníbal Godoy and center back Harold Cummings, but even they weren’t starting 11 players for the Quakes at the end of 2019.
Tactics & Key Players
As you’ve probably heard, Matias Almeyda’s tactics are among the most unique in the league with his pseudo-man-marking approach garnering headlines upon his arrival in MLS. The Quakes’ philosophy is to keep control of possession as much as possible and win it back instantly after it’s lost which results in a high-pressing, high-energy, and entertaining playstyle (and a lot of bonus points). The formation will be either a 4-2-3-1, which was San Jose’s most successful formation last year, or a 4-4-2, which Almeyda has been rumored to be preferring this preseason, but Almeyda has been keeping his cards very close to his chest in terms of his preferred lineup so I cannot say for sure which one it will be.
2019 starter Daniel Vega is back, and I expect him to start 2020 between the sticks. He played mostly well in 2019 and ended up posting the 3rd best GA-xGA in the league but will most likely be remembered for his absurdly bad howlers against LAFC and FC Dallas (look them up if you
haven’t seen them they’re hilarious) and his overall vulnerability to mistakes. If the errors continue to pile up in 2020, I wouldn’t be surprised to see young homegrown keeper JT Marczinkowski get a shot at the starting spot as he’s been tabbed as San Jose’s keeper of the future and the club is likely eager to get him game time.
As for fantasy, I don’t expect Vega to be among the top-scoring GKs if he is indeed the full-time starter as he finished last season 13th among keepers in total points and 12th in clean sheets and I don’t think the Quakes’ defense has improved enough even with the addition of Alanís to put him in line for many more. Vega was also 22nd among keepers in bonus points last year so when he’s not getting clean sheets, he’s not doing much of anything for your team.
The first-choice center back pairing will likely be the right-footed Florian Jungwirth and the left-footed Oswaldo Alanís with Guram Kashia providing depth from the bench. Jungwirth looks to be one of the team’s most valuable fantasy assets as he is a bonus point monster (4th
among defenders in BPs last year) and gets involved in the attack from time to time with 5 goals and 9 assists in his time with the club. However, I think he is the more likely of the two starters to be replaced by Kashia from time to time because Kashia and Jungwirth are both righties and thus are more of a like for like swap for each other while Alanís is the Quakes’ only
starting-caliber lefty center back. Alanís will probably be the more likely to start every match, but when he’s on the field I expect Jungwirth to produce better simply because of his history of producing BPs. Alanís did convert a penalty in one of the Quakes’ preseason friendlies and was known to take pens and free kicks with Chivas from time to time so that’s something to keep and eye on.
As for the outside backs, this is where the picture gets a bit cloudy. Three young players will be fighting for the 2 starting spots: Tommy Thompson, Nick Lima, and Marcos Lopez.
Thompson was the first choice right back for pretty much the entirety of last season and played very well in that spot but with high offensive and defensive activity level and frequent runs down the wing into dangerous attacking positions.
Nick Lima’s position of choice is also right back and that’s where he’s been playing for the USMNT lately. However, last season he was shoved over to left back for most of the season to accommodate Thompson and this led to him having a subpar year by his standards. Even despite Almeyda’s preference for Thompson, most would still say that Lima is the superior player at the RB position (hence Lima’s national team inclusion and not Thompson) so it’s possible that Almeyda could change his mind on that as well.
Lopez is the least experienced and quite frankly the worst player of the three judging by the performances he’s put in at the club so far but he is very young (Just 20 years old) and definitely has potential seeing as he’s already made his full Peruvian debut. The one thing he has in his favor is that he’s the only one of the three who is a natural left back.
Two final things to note is that 2019 draft pick Paul Marie played in small amounts at LB last year and performed decently so a first team breakthrough for him isn’t completely out of the question and veteran winger Shea Salinas has played LB under previous managers so that is also in the realm of possibility although we’ve seen no signs of it under Almeyda.
If I had to guess what the starting duo will be this year I’d have to go with Thompson at RB and Lima at LB just because that was last year’s most common combination but I honestly have no idea. One thing I do know is that Quakes’ fullbacks overlap a lot and get very involved in the attack so whoever does get the nod will be a valuable fantasy asset. Unfortunately, fantasy has designated Thompson as a midfielder for some reason so he will not be getting clean sheet points and will likely be irrelevant as a fantasy asset as a result.
This one is pretty straightforward. Jackson Yueill and Judson will be starting in the middle of the park for the quakes. Judson is a destroyer and is the more defensive-minded of the two while Yueill is a tremendous passer who dictates the game from the CM position as you may have seen with the USMNT.
Fantasy wise, Judson is the type of CDM who will give you 4-6 points per game regularly due to passing and defensive bonus points but he won’t give you any attacking returns. Yueill definitely has more attacking upside as he scored 3 times and provided 5 assists last year. However, he’s not even close to as reliable for attacking returns as any of the attackers will be and, although he will accumulate a lot of pass completion points, he won’t get as many BPs as Judson.
Overall neither of the Quakes’ CMs should be seen as big time fantasy assets.
Starting on the right, Cristian Espinoza will be the first choice RW and will also be the Quakes’ most dangerous attacking weapon and, in my opinion, their best fantasy asset. The DP has blistering pace that caused every team he faced last season tons of problems and he constantly found himself in dangerous positions in and around the right side of the box. His final product lacked a bit at times last year but I have confidence that the goal production will catch up to his tools. In 2019 Espinoza would routinely have games where he would reach 7, 8, or even 9 points without a goal or assist because of the sheer amount of crosses, key passes, big chances created and shots that he would put up. He also takes some corners and free kicks and converted a penalty in a US Open Cup game that I attended last year. Now that he’s been given a new DP contract and the keys to the attack have been fully turned over to him, I see no reason why he can’t take his production to another level.
At the CAM spot, former winger Magnus Eriksson was the man who took hold of the position as last season went on and I expect him to retain that responsibility heading into 2020. Like Espinoza, he played brilliantly in 2019 and finished the year 3rd in MLS in key passes behind only Diego Valeri and Carles Gil (Espinoza was 8th still ahead of stars like Alejandro Pozuelo
and Nani). Also like Espinoza, he frequently had games where he put up 7-9 points without putting his name on the scoresheet because of all of his attacking BPs. He was also on some penalties last year. If Almeyda decides to go 4-4-2 I would put Eriksson down as the frontrunner for the LM position ahead of all the guys I’m about to mention but some projected lineups I’ve seen have him on the bench. I would be surprised (and frankly upset) if he gets benched based on how good he was last year but it’s something to keep in mind.
Even if the Quakes do go 4-2-3-1, the left wing spot is still uncertain, as Vako and Shea Salinas both got significant minutes there last year and both played well. Throw in last year’s signing from Cruz Azul, Carlos Fierro, and you have a lot of players vying for LW minutes.
Vako was the most productive of the three last year with 8 goals and 5 assists and he is a DP which would lead you to believe that the club wants him on the field. Fantasy wise, Vako was the definition of boom or bust as he had multiple 14+ point hauls but didn’t do so on a consistent basis whatsoever. When he starts, he’s a great high upside play for Quakes’ matches against defensively porous opposition and particularly in Cali Clasicos as he had a goal and an assist in both matchups against the galaxy last season. Most feel that Carlos Fierro is headed for a much larger role this year following his first full preseason with the Quakes as he was a handpicked signing by Almeyda, unlike Vako and Salinas. He was pretty terrible in limited minutes in 2019 after coming over midseason so I’m not sure how he’ll perform in fantasy if given a starting role. As for Salinas, he seems to put together a few magical moments every season despite his increasing age so I wouldn’t count him out completely but at this point I think his only action will come when the regular starters are being rotated or if Vako or Fierro go down with injury.
The striker position is another one that’s up in the air as Andres Rios, Danny Hoesen and club legend Chris Wondolowski are all capable frontmen. We haven’t seen very much of Rios in a Quakes kit yet as he played sparingly after joining the club in the middle of last season much like Carlos Fierro. Also like Fierro, Rios is a handpicked Matias Almeyda recruit so I’m giving him the early edge over Hoesen and Wondo for the starting spot. There have already been rumors coming out of the Quakes’ camp that Wondolowski has accepted and embraced a primarily bench role for the squad so although he will remain the team’s emotional leader, I don’t expect him to be starting games with much regularity though I’m sure he will be given his moments to shine as it’s his last MLS season. Hoesen was underwhelming last year with only 5 goals after his 12 goal 2018 campaign so he hasn’t done much to assure Almeyda that the job should be his. I think both Hoesen and Rios are capable of winning the job and scoring double digit goals for the season but at this point neither one has separated themselves enough to say for sure. Almeyda has been experimenting with starting Rios and Hoesen together in the 4-4-2 that is also very possible.
For fantasy, any San Jose striker that plays should get plenty of chances due to Espinoza, Eriksson, and Vako’s creativity so whoever ends up starting will be a very high upside way into the Quakes’ attack and likely a good differential as neither Rios or Hoesen are very well known to the casual MLS fan.
Seeing as the team is largely unchanged from last year, I expect the Quakes to be once again locked in a tight battle for the West’s final playoff spot. The defense should be a bit better with the addition of Alanís, and with guys like Fierro and Rios getting their first full Matias Almeyda preseason I think the attack should click better as well. But those improvements will likely be marginal because you can only improve so much without bringing in new faces.