Sam Cronin

MLS Season Preview: San Jose Earthquakes

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Injuries, a shaky defense and some plain bad luck sent the San Jose Earthquakes crashing down in 2013, sliding down from the team that won the Supporters’ Shield in 2012 to a team that couldn’t even make the playoffs last season. But, provided the team hasn’t actually been cursed, it’s highly unlikely 2014 will be as disappointing for Quakes fans.

Why? They’ve got their new head coach locked down for the season. The side is healthy. Sensible, strong acquisitions were made since the start of the 2013 season. The defensive holes have been mended. And really, just how much bad luck can one team attract?

After scoring 27 goals in 2012, Chris Wondolowski scored just 11 last season, primarily due to playing most of the year with a broken toe. He’s back to health, as are Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon, so the goals should be coming more freely – particularly if Lenhart has learned to control his temper.

On the other end, bringing in Clarence Goodson midway through last season proved to be one of San Jose’s smartest moves, strengthening the defense to the point where the Quakes conceded just 10 times in their last 14 games. And with Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi now on board, Sam Cronin doesn’t need to spend quite as much time covering for the disappointing Rafael Baca, and can be more effective in his role as defensive midfielder.

LATEST MLS 2014 SEASON PREVIEWS, HERE

Players In: Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi (Discovery); Atiba Harris (Trade with Colorado); Billy Schuler (Weighted lottery); Tommy Thompson ( Homegrown); Bryan Meredith (Free); J.J. Koval (SuperDraft); Shaun Francis, Brandon Barklage (Re-Entry Stage 2)

Players Out: Ramiro Corrales (Retired); Nana Attakora, Dan Gargan, Marcus Tracy, Evan Newton, Peter McGlynn, Cesar Diaz Pizzaro (Option declined); Mehdi Ballouchy (Out of contract); Jaime Alas (Loan expired); Rafael Baca (Transfer to Cruz Azul); Justin Morrow (Trade to Toronto); Marvin Chávez (Trade to Colorado); Steven Beitashour (Trade to Vancouver); David Bingham, Sam Garza (Loan to San Antonio)

Key Player: Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi

source: AP
Can Pierazzi provide the missing link for San Jose?

Yes, it would be easy to put Wondolowski here. But we know what he can bring to a side when fully fit: goals, goals, and more goals. He will bother defenders and even create chances. But he, alone, cannot pull the Quakes out of the mire.

Enter Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi. The central midfielder, about at his prime at age 28, began his professional career with AC Ajaccio in 2006 and has been with the French club ever since. He’s not going to be a goalscorer (he’s had just two goals in his career) but Pierazzi is the man that San Jose are hoping can help with ball distribution in the center of the field. If he’s as good as they hope at winning the ball and getting it out wide to spark an attack, then calling him “key” is no exaggeration.

Manager: Mark Watson, who took over the reins as interim manager when Frank Yallop departed last June, was appointed as the Quakes head coach in October. He’s been with the team since 2010, when he came on as assistant coach. Watson earned his promotion by righting the sinking ship, patching up the defense to go unbeaten in the last seven games of the season. Plus, he must get some credit – and some adoration from the fans – for steering his side to a comeback win over the LA Galaxy, just a few weeks after taking over as head coach.

Outlook: If luck is on San Jose’s side, they’ll certainly have a much brighter season in 2014. The midfield’s been strengthened, the defense sorted out, and if Wondo can stay healthy, there’s no reason to think the Quakes won’t make an impression in the West. It may not be another Supporters’ Shield season, but they should easily make the playoffs.

Bruce Arena with strong words for Galaxy following collapse to San Jose

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The San Jose Earthquakes snatched victory from the clutches of defeat last night at the expense of their California rivals LA Galaxy.

After the Quakes were dominated for much of the match, Shea Salinas latched onto a loose ball in the box two minutes into stoppage time to equalize. Just a minute later the Galaxy defense failed to clear again and a wonder chip by Sam Cronin to the far post found Alan Gordon’s head for the win.

The win rocked Stanford Stadium, but the losers knew they let it slip away, and their manager dug in.

“I’m absolutely embarrassed at that performance, it’s disgraceful” said Galaxy manager Bruce Arena. He called his players and coaches “poor and stupid” but bore the brunt of the responsibility, saying “That game, we should win that going away at the end of the game. It’s embarrassing, our performance at the end of the game. That’s all on me. That’s my responsibility with this team.”

When asked what specifically the Galaxy could have done better, the frustration showed. “I don’t even want to go into that” said the 61-year-old. “If you have an IQ of 50, you can figure that out.”

The Galaxy will be ruing their missed opportunities to go well up in the match. Robbie Rogers, Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes, Hector Jiminez, and Marcelo Sarvas all missed key opportunities. Other than a short spell after the halftime break, LA were firmly in control.

One in particular stood out, where Keane – who was brilliant most of the night – had an opening but continued a never-ending back-and-forth with Landon Donovan, and neither shot the ball before possession was lost.

“The longer you play this game, the more you see games like that, where one team dominates and you don’t score, and the next thing you know, you’re on the losing end” said Arenas.

The win gives the Goonies life towards the bottom of the Western Conference, just three points back of the Galaxy who remain in fifth.

Busy week ahead for MLS disciplinary committee

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On the one hand, only one teenage ball boy was manhandled, so that’s something, I suppose.

On the other hand, there were so many naughty, naughty boys around MLS in Week 11. There were also some forgiving referees; no red cards were handed out over eight weekend matches.

All of that points to one thing: a busy week for the MLS disciplinary committee, which usually notifies teams by Tuesday of impending suspensions. (The suspensions are typically announced to the public later in the week, following the appeals process, except in instances where mid-week matches move the process forward.)

In Simon Borg’s weekly Instant Replay (which I like to call, “The most overly caffeinated six minutes in American soccer,” and which can be seen at the bottom of this post) we see several suspensions ahead. I don’t agree with Borg on all the reds that deserved to be shown; but for me, here are the reds that should have been issued:

  • If Johnny Leveron’s late tackle on LA Galaxy attacker Jose Villarreal isn’t red-card worthy, it’s very, very close. That one needs consideration for retro red.
  • Colorado’s Edson Buddle for his awful tackle (from behind and ridiculously late, with absolutely no effort to get the ball) on Columbus’ Tony Tchani is a clear red in my book.
  • Sam Cronin’s dangerous stud into Mauro Rosales’ groin needs retroactive action; San Jose’s Cronin gets away with a lot, a prime example of where MLS referees repeatedly fail to adequately warn for persistent infringement or dangerous fouling (and then to take more forceful action once warnings have been delivered).  The failure by referee Jair Marrufo’s to even issue a yellow card here was perhaps the biggest blunder from a man in the middle this weekend.
  • Philadelphia’s Bakary Soumare for planting a shoulder off the ball into the face of Chicago’s Quincy Amarikwa. That’s just brainless.
  • Chivas USA’s Mario de Luna for pushing a ball boy. Sorry, all you commenters from the other post who don’t think putting hands on a ball boy is worthy of suspension. You are wrong. (And by the way, Borg has great information here, reminding us that league guidelines say a ball boy must return the ball to the appropriate team, which in this case was not Chivas USA. It’s a point certainly worthy of consideration.)
  • It will be a case of high injustice if Columbus’s Jairo Arrieta does not get suspended for a pretty vicious elbow blow to the face of Colorado’s Drew Moor. Don’t forget, Moor himself was suspended for two games last month for an incident that looks remarkably similar.

By the way, the fast-moving Instant Replay also shows where goals by Montreal’s Marco di Vaio and Colorado’s Buddle should have been waved off. The disciplinary committee, at least, doesn’t have to worry about those.

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Three good questions for: San Jose head coach Frank Yallop

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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.

PST’s Most Intriguing Team of 2012 – San Jose Earthquakes

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For most of 2012, we couldn’t explain why a team that was picked to merely contend for a playoff spot was on track for the Supporters’ Shield, eventually cruising to the honor awarded for Major League Soccer’s best record.

Match after match, the San Jose Earthquakes would spend 60 minutes flirting with mortality before proving the  regular season’s best team. Frank Yallop’s squad scored 20 goals in the last 15 minutes of games. Eight times, the Earthquakes trailed heading into the last quarter hour before emerging with points. By season’s end, the surprise was gone. “Of course they came back” became the typical response when San Jose eventually performed wonders.

And they were done by Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon – good players, but not a duo you’d expect to combine for 23 goals. Similarly, Rafael Baca and Sam Cronin looked like a serviceable midfield, not one that would prove one of the league’s sturdiest tandems. Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour became all-star full backs. Add in Marvin Chavez, Simon Dawkins, and Jason Hernandez, and San Jose was improbably getting a collection simultaneous of career years. Perhaps the names on paper still didn’t scream top seed, but the Earthquakes had forged something that transcended their players’ pasts.

But of course, there were the stars. Honduran import Victor Bernardez was one of the league’s best defenders, giving Yallop an anchor as the Quakes pursued all their last gasp results. Captain Chris Wondolowski, eschewing any doubts to his place among Major League Soccer’s elite, scored 27 goals, tying a record that had stood alone since the league’s first season.

That San Jose eventually lost in the playoffs made their regular season all the more intriguing. Were the eight months that led up to November the aberration? Or had San Jose finally convinced us of their rightful place only to have their season undermined at the place they’d come to call the Goon Docks?

How you answer likely says how much you bought into the San Jose mystique – a band of Goonies brought together for a cinematic 2012. Regardless of whether you think 2013 will be a sequel, the Earthquakes success made them the most intriguing team of 2012.