The San Jose Earthquakes terminated the contract of General Manager John Doyle in a surprise announcement on Monday, signaling their wish for a “fresh approach” in the technical side of the team’s management. President Dave Kaval spoke to reporters in a conference call that afternoon and highlighted four key areas they hope to improve under new leadership:
However obvious, the Quakes need a drastic improvement in terms of results. Despite the widespread parity in MLS, the Quakes only made the playoffs twice during Doyle’s eight-year term, and appear on track for another disappointing finish. While the club began the year with a promising run of form, they’ve won just twice in their last seven games and have wasted critical opportunities against vulnerable opposition to stake their claim for a playoff position.
Quakes President Dave Kaval explained that the he has higher aspirations than this for the team: “We expect to make the playoffs every year,” he said in a conference call with reporters. “It was disappointing [not making the playoffs] last year, but we went from six wins in the previous year to thirteen wins so the trajectory overall was good. This year, we didn’t see the corresponding increase in performance. We don’t want to have a team that just tramples along the red line. We want to build a team that is more competitive, more exciting to watch and we felt that a new approach was necessary to achieve that.”
Although it’s rare for such a drastic management change to happen at such a critical place in the season, the timing of the move was borne out of their increasingly precarious playoff situation.
“From our perspective, we still have a chance to make the playoffs,” said Kaval. “The performance of the club last week was not [up to par] with the standards that we want as an organization. We squandered an opportunity to move up the table. We felt that there was still a chance to send a message to the technical side and make a change that can hopefully see some performance increase that can lead the team to the playoffs.”
Style of Play
It’s not hard to tell why the Quakes have been losing. They’ve been listless, devoid of attacking momentum, and now sit as the lowest scoring team in the league with just a single goal in their last three-hundred minutes on the pitch. In the past, the club reveled in their defensive, counter-attacking style of play, but now they’re having something of an identity crisis.
Their tactics have been picked apart in the last few games, with teams sitting back, soaking up pressure and hitting on the break through the middle, where the Quakes were outnumbered and vulnerable.
Even Kaval admitted as much. “It’s not just the results of the matches, the style of play has gotten kind of boring,” he said. “We need a fresh approach so we can have a style of play that’s interesting for fans to watch. That’s another piece of the puzzle that makes this change necessary.”
Announcing Chris Leitch as Doyle’s interim replacement is one signal of their intent to implement a more possession-oriented style of play through player recruitment, with Leitch known for having instituted a fluid 4-3-3 system across the academy in his previous position.
Of course, Doyle only had so much of a say in tactics and there has naturally been speculation that coach Dominic Kinnear could soon face the axe as well. However, Kaval gave Kinnear his full support, saying: ”This isn’t the first of many moves. We have a lot of confidence in the coaching staff. Dominic Kinnear, and his track record, as really an exceptional coach in Major League Soccer. We’re committed to those guys and that team, and we think we can go to the playoffs and beyond. It’s more an issue of – this decision at this time can lay some of the groundwork for future success, and the types of investments, and scouting, and team assembly, and strategy, that needs to start now for next year and beyond.”
He elaborated: “There have been injuries and player availability issues that have driven a little bit of that, but I just think that we need to have a fresh approach on the tactics side. I think that’s something that the head coach works with the general manager – determining the best formation, ways to play, and to maximize the potential of the players. I don’t think we are getting the most out of the players that we have, and the talent we have. We need to make sure we put the braintrust together to basically get more out of what we have. I really don’t think we’re achieving that now, but hopefully with this type of shake up, the players that we currently have can play in a system that gives us better results in the near term too.”
Designated Player Signings
The bane of existence for many Quakes fans is the club’s disappointing track record for signing influential designated players. The Quakes have been reluctant to splash on DP signings in the past, although that is slowly changing out of necessity, and their few DP purchases lie on a scale between underwhelming and calamitous — the names Giovanni Deiberson Mauricio, Matias Perez-Garcia, and most notably Innocent Emeghara sticking out.
“We need to do a better job in that area,” said Kaval. “The acquisition of high price designated players is a key part of any team’s success in Major League Soccer. It can really be the difference maker.”
Doyle, in the end, learned that lesson the hard way.
The first piece of business for the next GM will undoubtedly be to clear up the current sticky situation and get Emeghara’s overpriced contract off the books. Beyond that, Kaval said that signing big-name players is in the realm of possibilities.
“Obviously it depends on the philosophy of the general manager, and if we hired a general manager that feels that that is the best way to compete and to win an MLS Cup, then that is something that is on the table for consideration from myself and ownership,” he said. “So absolutely.”
Ultimately, this decision boils down to long-term outlook. Since the glory days of the Goonies, it’s fair to say that the club’s standing in the league has stagnated and new leadership was needed for the club to realign their trajectory.
“Going forward, we want to have someone in that GM position who can have a full vision of the technical side of the organization, including the academy, and can really help lead our organization towards success in the long term,” said Kaval.
Kaval gave the club the end of the year to hire Doyle’s permanent successor, which may well be Leitch.
“He has a great shot at the role long term, but I owe it to ownership and the fans that we examine all the opportunities,” Kaval said. “You don’t get an opportunity to make a change like this very often. John Doyle has been GM for 9 years. So it’s a really important point in the history of the club, and it can start a new course for us, especially as MLS continues to evolve as an international league.”
First and foremost, Kaval wants to send a message to an increasingly frustrated fanbase.
“There’s accountability,” he said. “Trampling around the red line is not going to be a suitable result for this club. We expect more, and this type of action shows that. Hopefully our fans can continue to support the club through this difficult time as we redouble our efforts to make the playoffs and build on the success we have had in the past.”