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Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes Preview Interview with Robert Jonas

Quakerattlegoal-xl_mediumHow I have missed my usual match preview interviews. It's a great way to learn about what the other teams are up to from people who know them best. And since we're in the habit of wanting to know every little detail about our opposition, who better to turn to than the other bloggers here on SB Nation?

In any case, this time I got a chance to interview Robert Jonas from Quake, Rattle and Goal to see what the San Jose Earthquakes have been up to in the off season and what we can expect from them in tomorrow night's match. Check it out!

It's been a long off-season for everybody in MLS, but what specifically have the San Jose Earthquake's done this off season in terms of player and staff movement?

The changes in San Jose have all been with coming and goings of players, as head coach Frank Yallop and general manager John Doyle have attempted to significantly upgrade the roster.

A big problem for the Earthquake in 2011 was a lack of depth at virtually every position, save goalkeeper. To rectify that for 2012, Yallop and Doyle redistributed the salary cap space saved by moving ineffective players out of San Jose and resigning key components from last year’s roster and trading or signing players from outside the team.

On offense, the Earthquakes resigned big target forwards Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon to pair with team MVP Chris Wondolowski up top, as well as speedsters Shea Salinas and Marvin Chavez as wingers to distribute the ball in the offensive third. In the center of the field midfielder Simon Dawkins returns on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, where he is joined by newcomers Jean-Marc Alexandre from Real Salt Lake and playmaker Tressor Moreno from Colombia. The moves on defense have been less dramatic, but the team does return Ike Opara from injury and signed Honduran international centerback Victor Bernardez to beef up the back four. Bringing back veteran goalkeeper Jon Busch for another three years was also an offseason priority, as the former MLS ‘Keeper of the Year was a vital part of keeping San Jose from hitting rock bottom in 2011. Like many goalkeepers his age, Busch has mixed experience with ability to raise his game to new heights.

Chris Wondolowski is obviously a huge threat, but it seems that he never truly comes alive until the second half of the season. Is this your expectations of him as well? Do you expect him to start against the Timbers?

Wondolowski had a fantastic preseason in 2011, but came out of the gate with a series of shocking misses and shots denied to start the season, all taking a toll on the confidence of the 2010 MLS Golden Boot winner. A stint with the U.S. National Team that was punctuated by a horrific miss in front of goal during a Gold Cup match against Panama did little to help him regain his mental edge. A tough summer for the team saw players drop out due to injury and personal leave, and Wondolowski did not respond to having all the pressure heaped on him to produce.

By the end of the summer, as the Earthquakes playoff hopes diminished, Wondolowski started to regain his form and went on a late season tear. He was rewarded with a call-up to US Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s January camp, and Wondolowski has parlayed that experience into another solid preseason. Without the same distractions this year of having to be the single star of the team, and with a supporting cast of offensive players that can together help break down opponents’ offenses, Wondolowski will only need to be the finisher for the Earthquakes in 2012, something he is more than capable of achieving.

Of all the new additions to the team, who do you believe has the most promise and why should we be paying attention to him (provided he gets minutes)?

The return of Steven Lenhart is a very important move for the Earthquakes going in to the 2012 season. The big target forward was playing with a heavy emotional burden to start the 2011 season, as his father had passed away earlier in the year. Lenhart eventually succumbed to the grief and distraction of that tragic event and left the team in late July for personal reasons and never returned to the playing field for the rest of the season. A great deal of uncertainty surrounded the potential return of Lenhart to the Earthquakes, but in December a deal was reached and a rejuvenated Lenhart arrived in preseason camp raring to go. He still needs to build up his match fitness, but coaches are convinced Lenhart can put together a full season that mirrors the successful half season he brought to San Jose in 2011.

Bobby Convey was recently traded to another MLS team. What does the San Jose Earthquakes look like without him? How will this affect the game and upcoming season?

The Earthquakes have not lost a beat since sending Bobby Convey to Sporting Kansas City for an International Player roster spot for the 2012 season. The former U.S. international was effective when personally motivated, but seemed to lose that desire as the season wore on and his spat with coach Yallop became more and more pronounced. By September, Convey was riding the bench and was not asked to be part of the team over the final month of the season.

On the field, Convey was beginning to show the signs of age, as he could no longer take opposing players on in one-on-one situations in quite the same way he did earlier in his career. He was shuffled between playing left back and left winger in coach Yallop’s line-up, but never changed the game from either position. At his salary — a reported $336K by the MLS Players’ Association — it was too much for the Earthquakes to bear for one who was effectively a role player.

So far in the preseason, the team has not appeared to miss Convey at all, and has found sufficient service from Rafael Baca, Shea Salinas, and Ramiro Corrales on the left side of the formation. Add in the impending arrival of Simon Dawkins to the left-side corps, and the loss of Convey has had little effect on the team’s fortunes and abilities.

Finally, what are you looking for in this pre-season tournament? What do you want to see for San Jose?

Preseason is a chance to tinker with line-ups and establish player combinations ahead of the regular season. For the tournament in Portland, expect the Earthquakes to use a first-team line-up in the first and third games, with the second game being more a chance to play some of the second team players.

Winning or losing matters less in these tournaments than getting meaningful minutes together in fast paced match situations, so San Jose will want to pair Wondolowski and Lenhart up top to help them build back some chemistry on offense. Dawkins should join the team in Portland, so he will need to become readjusted to playing with the Earthquakes. Lastly, Justin Morrow will again be called upon to play as a centerback for the thin Earthquakes backline as he steps in for an injured Jason Hernandez and an Olympic team hopeful Ike Opara. Usually the left back second teamer behind Corrales, Morrow has shown he can handle the center back position, and currently goes into the regular season as the team’s fourth choice CB.


Special thanks to Robert Jonas of Quake, Rattle and Goal. You can read more on the San Jose Earthquakes there.