Earlier this evening it was revealed that Mark Watson, the interim head coach for the San Jose Earthquakes, will sign a long-term contract with the club. Watson, who joined the Earthquakes midway through the season after Frank Yallop was fired, will return next year to the club he brought back from the depths of the Western Conference and almost into the MLS playoffs. Since being bumped up to head coach, Watson lifted the team to an 11-5-3 record, reinforced the defense by bringing in veterans Clarence Goodson and Jordan Stewart, and fostered an impenetrable home field advantage. The Earthquakes ended the season with 51 points, level with Colorado, but ousted on point differential. Not to mention qualifying, amid desperate conditions, for the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. Based off what he accomplished amid a horrid hand: wallowing in the bottom of the table, injuries, and national call-ups at in opportune time, Earthquakes General Manager John Doyle felt Watson earned the opportunity to take the reigns at the start of next year. And I couldn’t agree more.
“We needed more games,” Watson said bluntly regarding missing out on the fifth and final playoff spot. With only 34 games on the season, Watson also needed more goals from his men, in order to catapult the team into the final spot and best Colorado. In their final seven games, the Earthquakes went undefeated winning five and drawing two. Their final draw came on the second to last game of the season, a 0-0 battle against their bitter rivals, the Los Angeles Galaxy. Having almost completed the improbable and winning out, the Earthquakes were motivated in the locker room and that showed on the field. Having already been with the club as an assistant, making the transition to a familiar face was logical for the club at the time and makes sense now.
“His record speaks for itself,” exclaimed Sherri, a fan who sits in the Fault Liners section. She continued, “With him back, we would be playoff bound for sure.” Like Sherri, many of the fans interviewed at Buck Shaw shared the same sentiments about Watson. They were disappointed in the early end to the season, especially after last year’s goal frenzy that ended in a Supporter’s Shield, a first in franchise history, but were overall impressed with what he managed to salvage.
Another fan who sat in the bleachers near the halfway line, exclaimed she was pleased with Watson but contributed a lack of consistency away from home for the Quake’s shortcomings. She went on to add that injuries and ill timed international call ups hurt this squad when they were trying to make their comeback, such as Chris Wondolowski’s inclusion with the USMNT’s Gold Cup winning side, a tournament in which he received top scoring honors and an extra W on his jersey.
(Photo Credit: Jorge Contreras, Sports Report USA)
For all his plaudits, especially turning the defense into composed and stellar unit, Watson’s biggest off-season task will be to bolster the offense, particularly in midfield. One fan I spoke to, Gary, hit it right on the head when providing his feedback for Watson, pointing out that strategically the team could improve. Far too often, the Earthquakes midfielders Sam Cronin and Rafael Baca would lob ball after ball, to Wondolowski and Bash Brothers, Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart. It almost became predictable for teams to defend. If the Quakes add a more creative midfielder to sit behind Wondolowski’s goal hunting nature, who knows how deadly this team can be in 2014. The wing play is already impressive with Shea Salinas being the crafty, speedy force in offense and Cordell Cato and Marvin Chavez carrying an abundance of potential.
Watson concluded Saturday’s victory with this message to the fans, “I appreciate that (regarding their approval prior to the game) our fans are fantastic, they’re one of the big reasons why we have been so successful at Buck Shaw. They’re behind us for ninety minutes and in those little moments when we are looking for energy, they give us that little lift. And you know, I’d like to be here next year.”
Now that his wish has been granted, Earthquakes fans will be eager to see what he can do with a full year at the helm.