A new identity for the San Jose Earthquakes will be the club's story to watch in 2014, but what additional storylines will complete your season preview?
In part nine of our 19-part series, we will take an in-depth look at the most intriguing plots surrounding the Fire this season. The number and player to watch, as well as the match that should immediately be circled on your calendar, will be delved into with great detail.
Read on for your comprehensive guide to 2014.
Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, credit all statistics to Squawka. All data collected is licensed from Opta Sports.
Before we preview the coming year, here is MLS's complete list of offseason acquisitions and departures that helped mold this season's version of the club.
|F||Atiba Harris||Trade from Colorado|
|F||Billy Schuler||Weighted Lottery|
|D||Shaun Francis||MLS Re-Entry Draft Stage 2|
|D||Brandon Barklage||MLS Re-Entry Draft Stage 2|
|GK||Bryan Meredith||Free Transfer|
|M||J.J. Koval||MLS SuperDraft|
|D||Nana Attakora||Option Declined|
|D||Dan Gargan||Option Declined|
|F||Marcus Tracy||Option Declined|
|GK||Evan Newton||Option Declined|
|D||Peter McGlynn||Option Declined|
|F||Cesar Diaz Pizarro||Option Declined|
|M||Mehdi Ballouchy||Out of Contract|
|D||Justin Morrow||Traded to Toronto FC|
|M||Rafael Baca||Transferred to Crzu Azul|
|M||Jaime Alas||Loan Expired|
|M||Marvin Chavez||Traded to Colorado|
|D||Steven Beitashour||Traded to Vancouver|
Sigh. Where do we begin?
First, the good.
Celebrating their 40th anniversary, the Earthquakes unveiled a pair of new kits for the 2014 season. A throwback all-red away shirt—one that will serve as an homage to the inaugural 1974 season—bedazzled a slew of the club's supporters at the San Pedro Square Market in downtown San Jose.
The subtle nuances of the kit include the club's mantra "never say die" and a stamp commemorating the berth of the San Jose Earthquakes (EST 1974).
The club's new look on the pitch was well received.
The new identity, not so much.
An underwhelming new logo was unveiled alongside San Jose's fashionable statement. In a letter to his fans, "reunification" became the main message for club president Dave Kaval.
It's a message, according to MLS's official website, he believes the new logo captures to perfection:
This is a momentous day for the San Jose Earthquakes as we continue to shape the identity of this club to match its rich history and community ties. After consulting with fans, former players, staff and community stakeholders, we established three pillars for the club: Unity, Devotion, Heritage. Each of those pillars was integrated into the design of our new logo and will define the organization going forward.
Catchy, philosophical words like those are all well and good.
But this isn't 1974.
In an era where modern graphic designers are creating captivating crests on Twitter—most of the time just for fun—is this the best money can buy? Is the cliche checkered soccer ball an absolute necessity in 2014?
Sure, other historic clubs such as Barcelona, Tottenham and Manchester United all include "footballs" on their crests. But they're not exactly showcasing the type of ball iconic shows like the Simpsons have habitually used to show an uncultured approach to soccer and mock the very nature of the beautiful game.
Yes, that was a fanciful embroidery of the facts. But this fact remains: The brand that is New York City FC doesn't exist.
Even they have a better crest than the San Jose Earthquakes.
Hopefully, the club will be more aesthetically pleasing on the field in 2014.
Speaking of "aestheticlly pleasing."
The San Jose Earthquakes have a certain reputation around the league.
Following a 1-0 loss to the Quakes, former Colorado Rapids head coach bluntly reiterated what many MLS critics have preached as gospel since the league's inception. Elliot Almond's transcription of his words in the Mercury News pulled no punches:
I feel for the fans. I feel for the people who came to the stadium and the people who watched this game on TV. I feel sad for soccer, because today it was kicking and running. That was a very, very, very ugly game, and we took our part in the way that we couldn't figure it out. We tried to put the ball on the ground and tried to get some soccer today in the field, but it's very difficult to cope with a team that is kicking the ball up front and wrestling every ball in the air. It was a very difficult challenge for our team and we couldn't overcome that.
Easily, one can disregard these claims as sour grapes. After all, Pareja was the one on the losing end.
But the numbers say different.
According to Opta sports, no club engaged in more aerial duels than the Earthquakes in 2013. A total of 1,347 averaged out to 39.6 per match. To San Jose's credit, the club did win 50 percent of its headed duels and ranked seventh in the league.
So, no, Coach Pareja. It's not aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
But in a league where results matter, who says it has to be?
Lost in the Quakes' disappointing season is the fact that they finished 2013 with just two losses in their final 14 matches. Their 51 total points—in a toughened Western Conference—would've been enough to clinch the fifth and final playoff spot in the East.
Ultimately, the club missed out on the postseason due to the second tiebreaker of goals for. "Jumping" one final spot remains the goal for 2014.
Apologies for the cheap pun.
The numbers all point in his favor.
Well, most of them.
When dissected under the Opta spotlight, this time by analyst Benjamin Baer on MLS's official website, Chris Wondolowski shines brighter than any goalscorer in MLS history. Of the 31-year-old's 79 career goals, 43 percent were of the game-winning variety. Even more impressive, 59 percent of his goals gave his club the lead.
None of the top 25 goalscorers in league history came within five percent.
It's that kind of productivity that has led to his recent inclusion in the U.S. men's national team picture. But as impressive as those numbers are, even Wondolowski is aware that a fast start to the 2014 season is crucial for his World Cup chances.
Geoff Lepper carried the quotes on MLS's official website:
Absolutely, the time's dwindling down, so anytime you do get an opportunity, you have to try to make the most of it. Whether there were a lot of friendlies or not, the time here [with San Jose], it's going to be very important. I have to continue to try to get better and show well and have a good start to the season.
So, what exactly is keeping Wondolowski on the World Cup bubble?
The former MLS MVP has undoubtedly been productive at the club level, and his recent prowess at the international level have some clamoring for his inclusion to Jurgen Klinsmann's 23-man roster.
Unfortunately for Wondolowski, the USMNT was drawn in to Group G.
World-class competition awaits in June, and in this regard, the numbers don't exactly work in his favor. It won't matter how many extra "Ws" you throw on his jersey.
First, the facts.
Wondolowski has contributed eight goals in 19 caps for the United States. His first came in a friendly match against Guatemala—currently ranked 76th in ESPN's SPI rankings—in the build up to the 2013 Gold Cup. A hat-trick followed in the opening match of the tournament against Belize.
They're currently ranked 151st in ESPN's SPI rankings.
Wondolowski polished off two more against Cuba, who are humbly ranked 12 spots higher (139).
But what followed for a man in such scorching form?
Zero goals against Costa Rica. Zero goals against Honduras. Zero goals against, you know, World Cup competition. Though, to be honest, neither nation featured the usual suspects that allowed them to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. So technically, that wasn't even "World Cup" competition.
It should come as no surprise that Wondolowski didn't feature in the Gold Cup final against Panama.
But many continue to bang the drum. This time, it's Wondolowski's brace against South Korea that's adding fuel to this heated debate. You know, the same South Korea team that was demolished by Mexico 4-0 a few nights prior and was mainly comprised of players that won't even feature in Brazil.
So, yes, a scorching start to 2014 will aid his World Cup chances. The narrative will make him one of the most watched players in MLS as the season kicks off.
But for those still banging the drum: Don't hold your breath.
There is no Belize, Guatemala nor Cuba awaiting the United States in Brazil.
Klinsmann has better options at his disposal.
Two words: Stanford Magic.
Each of the last two California Clasicos have featured dramatic comebacks and suspenseful finishes. In 2012, a flurry of first half goals were offset by a Sam Cronin equalizer and a Wondolowski match-winner in the 61st minute.
The Quakes only upped the ante in 2013 after going down a goal and then a man. But a pair of stoppage time goals—including a match-winner from Alan Gordon that sent 50,000-plus fans into a fervent frenzy—recreated that Stanford Magic.
June 28 should prove to be no different.
If the last two seasons are any indication, another sellout crowd of 50,000-plus will be treated to fireworks both on and off the pitch. It also never hurts when the halftime festivities include a salute to the Armed Forces.
Expect the unexpected at Stanford Stadium.
"Goonies never say die."
Eduardo Mendez is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and analyst for Opta Sports. Follow him on Twitter for more insight on a variety of sports topics. Follow @Mendez_FC