SANTA CLARA — Cranes and machinery are busy at Earthquakes headquarters, building a new 18,000-seat soccer-only stadium in time for next season.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
Alongside the construction, San Jose head coach Mark Watson is building an Earthquakes team — one that wants to win right now.
With a massive CONCACAF Champions League season opener looming Tuesday night, Watson believes a lack of roster turnover from last season will be his squad’s biggest advantage to open the 2014 season.
The Earthquakes are returning eight of the eleven starters that featured heavily during the club’s impressive run at the end of last season.
That list includes the return of the Quakes three-headed strike force of Steven Lenhart, Alan Gordon, and Chris Wondolowski.
The trio is responsible for 91 goals since 2011, 56 percent of the Quakes’ total haul during that span.
On what he thinks the Earthquakes’ biggest strength is, Watson told SFBay:
“There are so many returning faces from our core group last year, we’ll have that familiarity and that cohesion that for some teams takes a few months. Most of these guys have been together for a while.”
In addition to United States International Wondolowski, the Quakes are also returning center-back Clarence Goodson, a starter for the United States National Team during their recent stretch of World Cup Qualifiers.
Goodson — who will miss Tuesday’s match against Toluca on a red card ban — will once again be joined at the back by veterans Victor Bernardez and Jason Hernandez.
At least two of those three featured in every game during the Earthquakes nine-game unbeaten run to end last season, allowing only two goals in the process.
While San Jose ultimately missed the playoffs last year, the team went 11-5-3 after Watson took over. This came after a disappointing 3-6-6 start that led to the firing of former Manager Frank Yallop.
Watson told SFBay he felt the team started believing in itself after the difficult start last season:
“We won our first game and that gave us a bit of belief, and we got to the point where everybody believed we were gonna win enough games to make the playoffs. Eventually we got to a place where we knew we were a good team and we were tough to beat.”
Tough to beat is exactly what the Quakes will have to be on Tuesday when they face Mexican side Toluca. Los Diablos Rojos sit second in the Liga MX, fresh off a dominating 3-0 league win against Puebla.
Toluca hold the top seed in the Champions League knockout stage, while the Earthquakes prop up the table in eighth.
Watson on what to expect Tuesday:
“We’ve seen three or four of their last games and they can play a bunch of different ways. More than anything they’re a good team with good players. They’ve been at the top of the Mexican league for a while now. We’re gonna have to be very good to get through this phase.”