Any fan of the Quakes should be optimistic for 2018. San Jose made huge moves during the off-season, including adding a new attacking designated player in the form of Magnus Eriksson, resigning forward Danny Hoesen, and signing several promising midfielders. However, the most glaring problem of 2017 was not the lack of offense, but the lack of defense.
The Quakes surrendered 60 goals last season, which tied a club record set in 1998. The team also had a dismal -21 goal differential, which was the worst in club history, despite scoring eight more goals in 2017 than 2016. Counting the playoff game in Vancouver, the Quakes finished the season with a -26. Yes, the offense was a problem, but the defense was an even bigger issue.
The causes were numerous: a young, inexperienced coach was hired midseason and had no solution to the defensive problems that plagued the Quakes virtually every road game. Marvell Wynne and Harold Cummings, two seasoned defenders, never saw the pitch due to medical issues. Three midfielders (Shea Salinas, Cordell Cato, Flo Jungwirth) were re-positioned as defenders and had to learn on the job alongside an aging Victor Bernardez. Goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell was still learning to command his troops after David Bingham was benched for good. In short, the Quakes once-reliable defense became their biggest liability, mainly because of a high turnover from 2016; only Victor Bernardez and Shaun Francis seemed to be familiar faces on the back-line.
In 2018, the Quakes will start the season with the same potential problem of 2017: defensive uncertainty due to a high turnover from the previous season. No one on the Quakes’ current defensive roster has played both the previous two seasons, unless we count midfielder-turned-wingback Shea Salinas. Defenders Francois Affolter, Jacob Akanyirige, Harold Cummings, Flo Jungwirth, Nick Lima, Jimmy Ockford, Joel Qwiberg, Marvell Wynne, and goalkeepers Andrew Tarbell, Matt Bersano, and JT Marcinkowski all have less than two season’s worth of experience playing defense in MLS since 2016. And if history is any indicator, the problem in 2018 (like 2017) won’t be offense, but defense.
While the Quakes should be good at fullback with the likes of Nick Lima, Joel Qwiberg, and probably Marvell Wynne, the team still needs to address the absence of a quality center-back tandem. Affolter was signed in July of 2017, played six games, and saw a -13 goal differential in games in which he played. Akanyirige is just 16 and probably needs more time to grow and develop to be an effective defender for MLS competition. Cummings missed a season due to injury and should be considered rusty-at-best as he acclimates to MLS. Flo is not a natural center-back and was caught out of position several times (yes, he won defender of the year, but does that really count for a team that arguably had the worst defense in club history? It’s akin to your sister winning a singing contest because everyone else was that bad, yet the award had to go to someone). Ockford has never played at the MLS level. Of those players, few give hope that they will be the second-coming of Clarence Goodson, thus a center-back should be the next target for Jesse Fioranelli.
The Quakes have a few options. Fioranelli could trade with another MLS team. An extra midfielder, such as Fatai Alashe, Darwin Ceren, Tommy Thompson, or Jackson Yueill, could be bartered for a veteran center-back. It would help balance the defender-to-midfielder ratio problem the team has at the moment; the Quakes currently have almost twice as many midfielders (13) as defenders (seven) if you count Jungwirth as a mid, his natural position.
A second option is rolling the dice via the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, which begins January 19th–the Quakes will have the 12th pick. San Jose could attempt to trade up with teams in the top five to draft Stanford’s Tomas Hilliard-Arce or Akron’s (and Generation Adidas player) Joao Moutinho as a potential starting center-back alongside Cummings. Or the Quakes could wait and gamble on a lesser-known prospect, such as 6’5″ Markus Fjortoft out of Duke, or UOP’s Triston Blackmon. That would give them several bodies to evaluate during the preseason and hopefully have a starting tandem ready for March 3rd.
A third option is to attempt to maneuver Fatai Alashe into a fulltime center-back. Alashe certainly has the size and the fight make himself into a defensive presence inside the 18, and could blossom in the role.
UPDATE: And apparently the fourth option: go abroad and buy someone. The Quakes may have found their center-back in 21-year-old Uruguayan Yeferson Quintana.
The Quakes currently have 26 players on their roster, thus leaving room for four more players. Expect the next Quakes signing to be a defender, probably a center-back, either in the next few weeks, or as their first MLS SuperDraft pick. Also, don’t be surprised if the Quakes pick up another fullback; Marvell Wynne is aging and still needs to pass a physical, and having options is always a good thing.