Major League Soccer is back! The Dynamo kick off the Major League Soccer season tomorrow night at BBVA Stadium, welcoming the San Jose Earthquakes to town. Before the season gets officially underway, we spoke to Alicia Rodriguez of Center Line Soccer to get some inside information on the Quakes.
Dynamo Theory (DT): It seems like decades ago that the Dynamo traded off Chris Wondolowski in a deal that no one thought twice about. Now Wondo is the all time leading scorer in Major League Soccer and is back for another year. How does he continue to do it and what does his role look like on the Quakes in 2021?
Center Line Soccer (CLS): Put simply, Wondo is a phenomenon. He’s got great instincts, he doesn’t get hurt, he works hard, and he perpetually looks like he can reach double-digit goals. I think it took him some time to adjust to a role where he wouldn’t be playing 90 minutes every game, but he goes hard enough that he can score off the bench with some frequency. And in addition, a combination of his tireless work ethic and a lack of a true successor over the years means every year he’s began the season as a substitute, he’s also managed to regain the starter’s role.
I think it will be more of the same in 2021. The Quakes still do not appear to have a player who is ready to take the mantle as the No. 9 from him, and while I think he will spend some time on the bench to stay fresh, I also expect he’ll get run as a starter during the season. All of this is contingent on his health, but Wondolowski has been very, very fortunate so far and if it stays that way, I don’t think he’ll be a bit-part player in what’s expected to be his last season.
DT: While Wondo is at the end of his career, the Quakes look to have a budding superstar at the beginning of his career in Jackson Yueill. After captaining the national team in Olympic qualifying what is next for Yueill in his continued development in San Jose and perhaps down the line outside of MLS?
CLS: Yueill has been very good and I think he’s also a symptom of why San Jose don’t get a ton of respect. Yueill is a deep-lying playmaker, someone who has to do some defense in midfield but who is really adept at raking passes all over the field. It’s not a position that makes highlight reels most of the time, and it’s a position that doesn’t exist unless you are the unusual player who is able to pull it off. But Yueill can, although he mostly rolls under the spotlight around MLS.
The Earthquakes, however, know what they have with the player. Yueill signed a long-term extension last year, and I think it was equally to secure him for a long time as it was to make him more valuable if he gets interest abroad. I think it’s possible he could get a stint abroad, but again, it depends on which team is willing to make room for his skills, and I could also see him being a successful MLS lifer. Even if that is the case, he’s a regular for the U.S. Men’s National Team and poised to have a big year for club and country. If he really takes off, who knows how far he can go.
DT: Matias Almeyda has a very unique style with his man marking system and he has brought in some more of his former players to help run it. Can Almeyda’s system be successful in MLS and what does his standing look like with the Quakes given on field performance and offers seemingly coming in from other clubs this offseason?
CLS: I think Almeyda’s persistent interest abroad is a testament to how good a coach he is. He’s a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, and the overall dynamic is remarkably similar: An Argentine with an extreme style of play, he would rather fail with his distinct style than succeed with boring soccer.
But crucially, both coaches have a masterful ability to lift the level of their team. On a talent basis, the Earthquakes remain one of the weakest in the league — they added probably about two starters in the offseason — but their levels of self-belief is through the roof. Almeyda wrings every last drop out of his players, and as a result, even with the team still in need of reinforcements, I still they can be pretty good this year. And with the persistent interest in Almeyda, I think this year is potentially a “now or never” year for the Quakes, since it would be hard to find a successor who has the same approach.