New GM, New Players, New Field, Oh My!

January 7, 2017

It’s been a big few days for the Earthquakes with the announcement of a new GM in Jesse Fioranelli and new center-back Harold Cummings (of course the news breaks while I’m in SoCal without a computer!). Here are some thoughts about these new signings, and the new pitch.

General Manager Jesse Fioranelli

A surprisingly great signing. The number one reason why I approve of Fioranelli’s hiring is simple: he’s smart. Any true fan of sports knows the value of analytics and stats in sports: they paint the picture of the player as a performer, identify the strengths and weaknesses, etc. All athletes are the sum of their production, measured in stats. General managers are the ones that identify the needs within a team and use analytics to find players whose production can meet the team’s needs.

This approach was totally alien to Doyle, who simply looked for talent and hoped it worked out. In terms of DPs, Giovanni and Innocent were disasters, Dawkins had a decent-but-nowhere-close-to-a-DP-season, and MPG, arguably the most productive player in terms of production per minute played for the Quakes in 2016, was traded mid-season. Those are a lot of really bad decisions that weighed down the Quakes down and prevented any real chance for improvement.

And then there’s Doyle’s failure to retain talent like Alan Gordon, Stephen Beitashour, Justin Morrow, and others. Post 2012, the team spun out of control and towards the bottom of the table as Doyle kept signing new talent and hoping it would work, rather than keep the talent that made the team successful. Doyle should have never been a GM, and unfortunately it took several years and several millions of dollars for the club to realize this.

Fioranelli is the opposite of Doyle: he doesn’t hope players work out, but uses analysis to leave nothing to chance. He has a background in analytics with Lazio and AS Roma, which has helped both clubs place near the top of Italy’s Serie A as of today (Lazio 4th, AS Roma 2nd). He’s also a scout of talent, and knows how to measure player strengths and weaknesses. My only question is: why did it take so long to hire a guy that was so qualified and on the table for so long? The decision seems like a no-brainer when compared to others rumored to be within the hiring pool.

As for Chris Leitch, I am not surprised he stayed with the team. Leitch is the heir-apparent to the GM position, which could be his in a few years should Fioranelli go back to Europe. Leitch is building a successful academy program in San Jose, and if/when San Jose gets their USL and/or NWSL team, I’m sure Leitch will be calling the shots. In short, Leitch has way more opportunities with San Jose, and he’s smart to make the most of them.

With Fioranelli at the helm and Leitch helping him learn about the convoluted rules of MLS, I am comfortable that San Jose can get back into winning ways. But I doubt it will happen this year as the hiring as come so late in the off-season that it may be too little, too late for 2017.

Center-Back Harold Cummings

Good signing, not great. He’s small for a center-back (listed at 5’11”), but the dude is fierce. He’s also just 24, so there’s a lot of potential upside as he enters his playing prime. He plays for Panama, and could be a great partner with Muma. But here’s my reservation: Muma ain’t getting younger and could see his production drop this year, especially towards the end of the season. That said, we need at least one big guy on the back-line, and I’m not convinced Andres Imperiale is a the real-deal as Marvell Wynne outshined him when tasked to play the central role despite being a fullback. I would have liked to have signed a bigger center-back that can be the enforcer on the back-line.

I also have a second reservation: we don’t need defense so much as we need offense. While I do like the signing as a good defensive move, I think the FO needs to focus on bringing in a forward that can pair well with Wondo, and that should be our first priority. The Quakes ranked near the bottom in total offense last year, and set a club record in terms of the lowest goals-per-game average. Why? Because teams knew to blanket Wondo whenever he was in the box. An Alan Gordon-type of forward should be the next signing: a tall guy that can win aerials in the box and draw attention away from Wondo. That’s why Wondo was so potent during his Golden Boot seasons, and a reason why he’s seen his production drop in recent years. Let’s get that forward we need before it’s too late!

New Grass

Why is this news? Because Avaya Stadium had an absolutely terrible pitch. Remember Levi’s Stadium, and Super Bowl 50? Remember how Denver’s defense pushed around Carolina’s offensive line during Super Bowl 50? If you noticed, the linemen’s feet were planted, but the linemen still got pushed back because the ground beneath the turf was too thin, causing huge divots. Not only did Avaya use the same seats as Levi’s, it also used the same grass, which meant the same problems: slipping. It got so bad that opposing coaches always would remark about how terrible the field was. A new pitch should equal a better product on the field, and that’s always a good thing.

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