Quakes fans due for some luck
By Ridge Mahoney, Soccer America
The only constant in the five-year history of MLS in San Jose is disappointment. In what is potentially one of the league's best markets, it has had only one winning season -- in 1999 -- and that team missed the playoffs.
Perhaps that elusive element luck will lift the San Jose Earthquakes out of the doldrums. This poor, accursed franchise has tried nearly everything else.
It has changed its nickname from Clash to Earthquakes to hearken back to days of NASL glory, when crowds packed a smaller version of Spartan Stadium. It has changed head coaches three times, and three proposed sales of the team have fallen through.
It has rolled dozens of foreign players through its ranks. Most have been eminently forgettable.
It has betrayed and disappointed the soccer fans of Northern California, comprised of solid supporters of the U.S. national teams as well as vast numbers of Hispanic aficionados.
It has the third-worst all-time MLS record (66-86-8) and has missed the playoffs the past four years.
It has nowhere to go but up. Can it?
QUALITY CONTROL. Defender John Doyle announced his retirement earlier this year after playing with San Jose since the league's inception. To him, the team's troubles stemmed from a simple lack of capable players.
"We had a good team that first year," he says of a 15-17 squad that reached the postseason. "But instead of building on that success, the team got rid of some of our best players and didn't replace them with players who were good enough."
The most glaring example: jettisoning Paul Bravo to Colorado. All he had done is lead the team in 1996 with 13 goals.
"After that, it was downhill," said defender Tim Martin, who played in San Jose from 1996 to 1998.
The pattern would repeat itself. Mexican midfielder Missael Espinoza was the team's third-leading scorer and extremely popular with San Jose's large Mexican population.
MLS could not reacquire him after that first season and couldn't find a suitable replacement. Rumors of Carlos Hermosillo or several other Mexican internationals coming to San Jose never panned out.
In 1999, with the team being run by Kraft Soccer, San Jose sent Jeff Baicher to the other Kraft team, New England, for midfielder Jair.
Doyle was aghast.
"Baicher was one of our best players that year," says Doyle. "And look what we got in return. Jair didn't help us."
When MLS sold Eddie Lewis to English club Fulham, the Quakes were promised an allocation to replace him. Lewis had nine goals and 35 assists in four MLS seasons.
Since then, Frank Yallop has replaced Lothar Osiander as head coach, and the NHL's San Jose Sharks have taken over team operations.
The allocation slot remains open.
FOREIGN MISADVENTURES. MLS teams that have struggled on the field can point to poor usage of its foreign players. The Quakes may be the most glaring example.
Ronald Cerritos, acquired in 1997, has been the only consistent performer. Although sidelined last season for all but nine games, his totals -- 44 goals and 32 assists in 93 games -- ties him for 10th on MLS's all-time points list.
Guatemalan Jorge Rodas played one indifferent season in 1996, but he looks like a stud compared to Istvan Urbanyi, Zico and Daniel Guzman (1997), Brian Sebapole (1998), Alejandro Sequeira (1999), Mauricio Solis (1999-2000) and Khodadad Azizi (2000).
Chilean Marcelo Vega was cut in the 1999 preseason. Osiander traded talented Costa Rican Mauricio Wright after a falling out in mid-2000.
Can it be any reason other than bad luck to explain why Raul Diaz Arce could score anywhere but in San Jose? During the '99 season, he logged four goals in 18 games; his regular-season totals for other MLS teams are 74 goals in 118 games.
"He was snakebit," said Renato Capobianco, the Quakes assistant coach at the time. "He just couldn't score here. He'd hit the post, the crossbar and the keeper, even in practice."
Sources say a core of domestic players insulted Hispanic teammates, which heightened tensions within the team.
Former Scottish international Richard Gough played 19 games in 1998 but left the team during the 1999 preseason after an argument with then-coach Brian Quinn.
The story goes that Gough didn't want to travel with the team on a sightseeing trip to the Aztec monuments in Mexico. "I wanted to rest for the game that night," Gough said at the time.
"I told Brian, 'I saw them in 1986 when I was here with Scotland for the World Cup. I don't need to see them again.'"
Quinn refused to relent, and Gough returned to English soccer.
By the end of the season, Quinn was out, too.
THREE AND OUT. Former NASL Quakes defender Laurie Calloway first took the coaching reins, but insecurity prompted him to constantly change personnel and systems.
Squabbles with Eric Wynalda led to locker-room incidents, including punches thrown by Wynalda and Doyle. Wynalda admitted he had hired the small plane that towed a banner encouraging the team to fire Calloway.
The team ran aground midway through the 1997 season. General Manager Peter Bridgwater fired Calloway and replaced him with Quinn, a former U.S. international who had been coaching indoor soccer.
Quinn, a native of Northern Ireland, was much different than Calloway, an Englishman. His knowledge of the game was extensive, but his management skills rankled many players.
"It was like he always wanted to argue with players if they didn't agree with him," said a former player. "He knew the game, but he didn't know how to handle players."
The team missed the playoffs in 1997 and 1998 and was out of contention in 1999 when General Manager Lynne Meterparel orchestrated a move to replace Quinn with longtime Northern California resident Osiander, a former U.S. national and Olympic team coach who had worked in MLS with Los Angeles and the Project-40 team.
Results in 2000 were dismal. Injuries limited Cerritos to just nine games, Azizi showed none of the flair he had flashed with Iran, and scathing public comments by Osiander infuriated some of his players.
Two days after the announcement that SVS&E would run the team in 2001, Osiander was fired. Former D.C. United assistant coach Yallop was named as his successor in early February.
Yallop will need help. And luck.
Ridge Mahoney is a senior editor at Soccer America magazine.