By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 10, 2023) US Soccer Players – In two weeks, MLS begins again. Some clubs will be looking to maintain a high standard carried over from last year. Others are hoping to re-establish themselves as contenders after years of struggle.
As MLS adds new teams, increases its spending power, and chases the windfalls of professional player development, a handful of formerly successful clubs find themselves scrambling for a place among the league’s top franchises. Years of playoff misses make the dream of a championship seem distant, but MLS by design ensures that all clubs can position themselves for quick turnarounds.
The San Jose Earthquakes won two MLS Cup champions in the early years of the 21st century and set then-records for points and goals when the club grabbed the 2012 Supporters’ Shield, the second points title in team history. Since then, the Quakes made the playoffs just twice, entering the 2023 season coming off of a last-place finish in the Western Conference.
The Quakes are turning to former FC Dallas head coach and USMNT assistant Luchi Gonzalez to lead the club back to a place among the Western Conference contenders. Gonzalez’s record in Dallas was mixed, but he did prove himself capable of bringing young talent through from the academy into the first team.
Gonzalez has talked about learning on the job in Dallas and what it will mean for his success in San Jose. Players like Jesus Ferreira, Reggie Cannon, Paxton Pomykal, and others benefited from Gonzalez’s guidance in Dallas. The situation in San Jose isn’t too far removed from that experience. In Northern California, Gonzalez will coach a group of talented young players and a sprinkling of proven veterans.
That includes Cade Cowell, a full US international whose athleticism makes him an attacking threat every time he steps on the field. Cowell was one of the stars of the recent USMNT camp in California on the strength of an excellent performance against Serbia and will be counted upon to drive the offense of Gonzalez in San Jose.
Cowell will have American help in the Quakes’ front line in the form of striker Jeremey Ebobisse. 2022 was Ebobisse’s first full season in San Jose. While the club came up short of its goals, Ebobisse himself had a breakout campaign putting the ball in the net 17 times in 34 appearances.
The biggest news in San Jose this winter involved the club’s significant investment in a game-controlling defensive midfielder. The move for Ecuadorian international and former FC Dallas midfielder Carlos Gruezo should put the Quakes on good footing to improve on last year. The acquisitions indicate a new approach to trying to win games.
The Houston Dynamo, technically speaking, is a club born in San Jose. Though for historical purposes, the current-day Quakes claim the history of the first version of the team in MLS, the original MLS Earthquakes left Northern California for Texas in 2006. There were good years from the start in Houston with consecutive titles and two more MLS Cup final appearances. Since advancing to the semifinals in 2017, the Dynamo have gone five years without a postseason appearance.
Former DC United head coach Ben Olsen arrived in the offseason with the job of turning the Dynamo into a contender. Olsen’s tenure in DC delivered a US Open title and six playoff appearances. Houston’s big signing of 2022, Mexican international Hector Herrera, will be the linchpin of the team and will benefit from working with an experienced coach.
Corey Baird returns on one wing, while new French signing Armine Bassi appears to be the first choice on the other. Artur has arrived from Columbus to man the midfield and former LAFC defender Franco Escobar joins the backline. Houston’s business probably isn’t finished.
There’s ambitious ownership in Houston and leadership in general manager Pat Onstad and Olsen that know the league inside out. Herrera has the leadership and playing qualities to make a dramatic difference if given the proper support and he’ll help fill the stands with potential new fans. Memories of Houston’s championship days may be fading, but 2023 is here with plenty of reason for hope.
Jason Davis is the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM.
More From Jason Davis:
- The coaching changes for USMNT players at Leeds, Norwich, Valencia, and Hoffenheim
- Goalkeepers, Designated Players, and spending on defense already highlights the MLS transfer windowp
- Seattle’s moment at the 2022 Club World Cup
- Plenty of tactical options for the USMNT vs Serbia
Photo by Lyndsay Radnedge – ISIPhotos.com