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'14 Season Preview: Watson puts his stamp on San Jose

2:18 PM, Mar 3, 2014   |    comments
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Santa Clara, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - After spending eight-plus seasons in charge of the San Jose Earthquakes, Frank Yallop was unable to survive a poor start to last season, paving the way for a new face to lead the franchise.

Yallop's side won just three of its first 15 matches before he received his marching orders, with Watson taking over on an interim basis.

Under Watson the Earthquakes enjoyed a bit of a revival, posting a record of 11-5-3 that included a season-ending seven-game unbeaten streak that nearly propelled the club into the postseason.

In the end San Jose lost out on a tiebreaker to Colorado for the final playoff spot, but that run is enough to give the club hope for bigger things in 2014.

"We were so close, and especially the way that we ended the season," Earthquakes defender Clarence Goodson said. "We feel if we can do that for the course of the whole season - if we do that, then we'll be one of the best teams in MLS. That's really what's needed. That's certainly the goal."

One of the reasons for San Jose's turnaround last season was the improved play of the defense, which yielded only 10 goals over the final 14 games.

However, there will be a few new faces in the back with the departures of Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow, leaving questions for Watson to answer.

Morrow's exit will not be as difficult to overcome due to the play of Jordan Stewart, who stepped in to displace Morrow in the starting lineup and appears to be more than capable of improving that area.

But Beitashour, a former MLS All-Star, leaves much bigger shoes to fill after starting 27 games last season. Watson will have a tough time replacing the production of the four-year veteran, who started 33 games the previous year.

Beitashour was shipped to Vancouver in exchange for allocation money, and his spot is likely to be filled by Brandon Barklage, who appeared in 26 games for Red Bull New York last year.

The San Jose midfield figures to get a big upgrade with the arrival of Jean- Baptiste Pierazzi, who signed in January from French side Ajaccio.

Pierazzi spent eight years with his hometown club and helped the side gain promotion to Ligue 1, where he served as captain and made 67 top-flight appearances.

The Frenchman figures to bring a strong two-way presence to the middle of the field alongside Sam Cronin, while another addition, Atiba Harris, should add some scoring punch.

Harris was acquired in a trade from Colorado in January after netting five goals in 29 appearances for the Rapids, and his arrival should help an attack that figures to be more productive.

The forward trio of Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon struggled last season by combining to score only 19 goals, while the club itself scored a total of 35, which was more than only three teams in MLS.

All eyes will be on Wondolowski as he attempts to bounce back from a season that saw him find the net only 11 times last term after scoring 27 goals in 2012.

After enduring an injury-plagued season last year, Wondolowski has already gotten off to a good start as he netted a pair of goals after being called up to the United States national team in a 5-0 friendly win over South Korea in February.

Watson has now had an offseason to mold the team more to his image. The question is whether or not he is able to take this club to the heights it enjoyed under Yallop, which included a pair of MLS Cups and a Supporters' Shield.

ACQUISITIONS: Atiba Harris (M), Tommy Thompson (M), Shaun Francis (D), Brandon Barklage (D), Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi (M).

LOSSES: Ramiro Corrales (M), Nana Attakora (D), Peter McGlynn (D), Mehdi Ballouchy (M), Marvin Chavez (M), Steven Beitashour (D), Justin Morrow (D).

OUTLOOK: The biggest questions facing the Earthquakes ahead of the new season revolve around the team's lack of scoring punch last year and how a few new faces in the back line will impact the defense. San Jose went from scoring 72 goals in 2012 to 35 last season, which is a massive difference for a team that made minimal changes to its attack. If Wondolowski, Lenhart and Gordon are able to remain on the field, that number should jump considerably. How well Barklage is able to replace Beitashour in the back will also be big for a team that finished last season in such good form. If Watson is able to carry that momentum into this campaign there is no reason to believe that San Jose won't return to the postseason and be a contender in the competitive Western Conference.

The Sports Network

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