With the goal reached and glory on the horizon, the Quakes found themselves unlikely participants in the 2017 MLS Playoffs thanks to an epic FC Dallas collapse and a last-minute stoppage-time winner on Decision Day. However, little changed for San Jose’s fortunes on the road as untypical losses in which San Jose conceded multiple second-half goals became embarrassingly typical. On Wednesday, in their first playoff game since 2012, the Quakes lost in typical road fashion, a 5-0 shelling in Vancouver in which four second half goals were conceded.
The game was close after the first half with San Jose conceding a (what else?) set-piece goal off a corner at 33′. Freddy Montero found himself unmarked at the far post, and Kendall Waston’s header was redirected by Montero for the eventual game-winner. Down a goal with 45 minutes left to play is not an insurmountable lead for a team that scored six goals in their previous three games.
However, the Quakes unraveled by surrendering four more goals to create a lopsided victory for the home side. Cristian Techera, Kendall Waston, and Nicolas Mezquida all scored within 33 minutes of each other (Mezquida twice) to send Vancouver through to the next round.
The tragedy is that the Quakes did not learn from their regular season mistakes and make playoff adjustments. This latest loss is the eighth time in 10 road games that San Jose and Head Coach Chris Leitch have allowed their opponents to roll over them in the second half. The only times the Quakes managed to play two complete halves on the road were when they beat the last-place L.A. Galaxy (who managed just three home wins all season) and mustered playoff effort to draw Vancouver 1-1 less than two weeks ago.
- Atlanta: 4 second half goals (lost 4-2)
- NY Red Bulls: 4 second half goals (lost 5-1)
- Seattle: 3 second half goals (lost 3-0)
- Houston: 3 second half goals (lost 3-0)
- Real Salt Lake: 4 second half goals (lost 4-0)
- Toronto: 3 second half goals (lost 3-0)
- DC United: 4 second half goals (lost 4-0)
- Vancouver (first round of playoffs): 4 second half goals (lost 5-0)
The coaching is to blame. Conceding three or more second-half goals in 80% of road games is not a fluke, and competent coaching would have fixed this problem after two games. However, Leitch’s lack of experience perpetuated the problem, rather than solve it thus his team was handed another lopsided away defeat, this time on the road to the championship.
However, Leitch cannot shoulder all the blame. Quakes GM Jesse Fioranelli, who threw all of his eggs into the Chris Leitch basket by naming him the full-time (non-interim) head coach, put a man with no experience in charge of a top-tier MLS team, probably the for the first time in history. Fans, and Fioranelli himself, should not be surprised at the price San Jose paid this season by having an inexperienced coach go up against other MLS coaches who have put in the blood, sweat, and tears to earn their positions. D.C. United, Real Salt Lake, Houston, and others are not better teams, but simply have better coaching that can make second-half adjustments to win games. Fioranelli’s gamble on Leitch and his inexperience ultimately doomed the team to another dismal-but-typical road loss.
Multiple sources have said that Leitch will return in 2018, although no official announcement has been made. As a fan, I would rather Leitch go through the growing pains of gaining experience as a head coach with a USL or college team, and not with my beloved Earthquakes. Yes, getting the playoff monkey off our backs is nice, but in all honesty, the Quakes were lucky to be a playoff team at all. Furthermore, a coach that doesn’t learn from the past is doomed to repeat it, and Leitch has not given this fan any faith that he is versatile enough to adjust his coaching in order to create a winning program in 2018. (Prove me wrong, Chris!)
With the Quakes’ season done, a lot of questions remain to prepare for 2018. One of the priorities will be retaining forward Danny Hoesen, who was on loan for 2017. A second priority is to trim the fat from the Quakes roster, including the release of DP midfielder Simon Dawkins, defender/midfielder Cordell Cato, goalkeeper David Bingham, and (possibly) forward Quincy Amarikwa. Look for the Quakes to announce roster moves soon.
The team should also focus on signing a replacement for Victor Bernardez, who announced that the 2018 season will be his last. The team will also need to field a corps of fullbacks as midfielder Shea Salinas was conscripted to fill the void with the injuries and absences of Nick Lima and Cordell Cato. Resigning Marvell Wynne to pair with Nick Lima could solidify the shaky Quakes defense allowed 60 goals, which was 20 more than 2016 and tied with the 1998 for the highest in club history.