By Mike Rice.
San Jose Earthquakes bounced back from their defeat to Atlanta which ended in incredible scenes, to earn a 2-1 win over Vancouver Whitecaps last weekend.
The Whitecaps have given a 1-0 lead away twice in two games, losing 2-1 in both after leading at the half. Vanni Sartini and his side have their issues to address, but for Luchi Gonzalez, there are some exciting signs for his side’s prospects in 2023.
Chris Leitch took a slow yet considered decision over who should replace Matias Almeyda after the Argentine manager was fired early in the 2022 season.
Focus was placed on building the team’s philosophy, from the academy up to the first team and aligning everything to a vision they have as a club on how to play the game.
With one of the most exciting academy systems in the country, they have now got a head coach who built experience in FC Dallas as Academy Director and first-team head coach, as well as an assistant coach role alongside Gregg Berhalter for the USMNT.
He arrives with young players to develop, but also some experienced players on a roster which has underperformed somewhat considering the talent on paper.
One player who has carried on his fine form from 2022 is Jeremy Ebobisse. The centre forward is a clinical finisher and has two goals in two games at the start of 2023.
17 goals last season was a career year for the American striker, and he has picked up exactly where he started from.
The beauty of Leitch’s decision to organise the club as a whole before bringing in a head coach has ensured some continuity, understanding, and some calmness which the club has not had for some time.
San Jose added to the spine of the team, Jonathan Mensah coming in from Columbus Crew at centre back, Daniel in goal from Internacional as well as Ecuadorian central midfielder from FC Augsburg Carlos Gruezo.
These additions aim to make San Jose tougher to beat, while the attack has remained consistent and it’s an area where San Jose has a bit of depth and a lot of quality.
Ebobisse is the focal point of the attack, supplied by one of the best in Earthquakes history on the wing in Cristian Espinoza. The Argentine winger has produced 45 assists for his side since arriving in 2020 from Villarreal in Spain, which puts him just three assists behind club record-holder Shea Salinas.
Cristian Espinoza is now 3 assists away from being the all time leading assists leader in San Jose Earthquakes history. Shea Salinas has the most assists for the club currently with 48. #Quakes74 #MLSSeasonPass #QMZ (📸 @rochamultimedia) pic.twitter.com/5rBBHNGS11
— Favian Renkel (@FavianRenkel) March 5, 2023
With Espinoza’s quality on the right, and Cade Cowell or Benji Kikanovic on the left, Ebobisse has plenty of service as well as players who are goal threats themselves. Gonzalez is keen for his fullbacks to push up the field and be difference makers in the attack, providing crosses with Ebobisse strong in the air as well as the other runners into the box.
San Jose won’t be down at the bottom of the Western Conference competing for a wooden spoon this season.
They are not the finished article, but with Ebobisse leading the line they have a top-level MLS centre forward to rely on. While it is early into Gonzalez’s tenure as coach, with the expanded playoff format it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see the Earthquakes competing for a spot come the end of the season, they could also be a very exciting cup side.
What he will need to improve upon though is being more clinical. Ebobisse has had seven shots across his first two games with only three on target. With a long season ahead, chances can be harder to come by at times and he needs to make it count when presented with the opportunity.
He managed 17 goals last season and with his team looking stronger he will have his eyes set on setting another personal best in Major League Soccer in 2023.
As for his international ambitions, Ebobisse will keep scoring and highlighting what he does best. With no head coach hired after a World Cup which saw its centre forwards struggle in front of goal again, another solid year could see Ebobisse get his chance again. And at 26, he knows he will need to take his opportunity if it arises.