PORTLAND, Ore. — As opposed to last February when everybody was picking the LA Galaxy to run away with the West (how did that prediction work out for us), preseason 2013 sees the Western Conference’s powers in flux a week-and-a-half before the regular season starts. Real Salt Lake has shuffled their deck, Seattle’s admittedly in flux, while the LA Galaxy have yet to replace David Beckham.
Given the flux, the easy pick would be the reigning Supporters’ Shield holders San Jose, but while catching up to head coach Frank Yallop at Portland’s annual preseason tournament, it was clear the Earthquakes have their own set of challenges to navigate ahead of First Kick. New expectations and the loss of any surprise factor the Goonies would carry into the season are amplified by the more tangible issues: the loss of a key talent, injuries to a previously deep forward corps, and the challenge of matching a 2012 fueled by a number of breakout seasons.
If only this feature was called “As Many Questions As You Need.” Unfortunately, we get only three:
After your success last year, and how the season ended last year, how is that influencing your preparation for this year?
It’s the same as we would be doing anyway. You try to prepare your team for the first game and building a squad for the rest of the season.
We’ve got a lot of guys out – big, key players for us last year. It’s been a little bit funny in preseason. We’ve not had out full unit at all.
But, we’ve managed. We keep ticking on. A lot of young guys are getting their chance to play. We see what they’re all about.
One of the keys last year was not only [Chris Wondolowski] but the forwards around him. What’s a fair goal, as far as Chris’s goal numbers this year, and how is the absence of, say, Steven [Lenhart] going to affect that?
NOTE: Steven Lenhart continues his recovery from a torn meniscus suffered at the end of last season. The team has yet to establish a timetable for his return.
Alan Gordon’s out, too. He scored 14 goals. Between the two of them, they had 24 goals, which is a big, big number in our league. Simon’s obviously gone, Dawkins back to England, so we’ve got a lot of weapons that are not at our disposal at the moment.
For Wondo, we know he’s going to score goals. He needs chances to score. I think the big thing for me is making sure we do give him enough chances to bury chances. If you don’t give him any shots on goal then he’s going to (have to) create his own stuff, it’s tough for him. You give him enough looks a goal, he’ll score from goals.
For him to get 27 goals would be tough. But he’s grown. He’s scored 18, 27, I think 16. He’s always going to be one of the top scorers in our league. We just want him to continue that with us.
You had a lot of breakout performances last year. If you were going to pick one person from this squad to have a similar breakout, who would it be?
Um, that’s a good question. I think a lot of the guys last year, the guys that played, for sure had good years. Sam Cronin and Rafa Baca, you could go on and on with those guys. I don’t know.
I think Nana Annakora and Ty Harden have looked good in preseason, center backs.
Um, God, I don’t know.
It’s difficult to pick a new breakout star when everybody broke out in 2012. Beyond the injuries and losses, that may be the biggest issue for San Jose. Wondolowski’s not going to score 27 goals again, we know that. He’s going to fall back slightly to his normal, excellent level of performance.
The challenge for Yallop: How do you keep your team in first when the rest of the squad may see that same regression? Just like their Western Conference rivals, San Jose has their own unique issues heading into 2013.