Santa Clara, CA – The San Jose Earthquakes have only been able to go as far as Chris Wondolowski could carry them over the past couple of seasons, but the club may be able to make a run at a postseason berth after adding some vital pieces during the offseason.
Wondolowski has scored 34 goals over the last two seasons, earning nods to the MLS Best XI both years in the process. He won the Golden Boot award in 2010 and finished tied with Dwayne DeRosario for the scoring lead in 2011, but ultimately lost out to the Canadian on a tiebreaker.
San Jose was able to qualify, and even advance a round, in the 2010 playoffs, but it was not even close to replicating that same level of success in 2011.
The 'Quakes finished the regular season in seventh place in the Western Conference on 38 points, missing a playoff spot by eight points.
But a disappointing 2011 season has yielded some potentially beneficial moves from the Earthquakes' front office.
Arguably the club's biggest acquisition of the offseason came in December as Marvin Chavez joined San Jose from FC Dallas in exchange for allocation money. Chavez should provide Wondolowski with some quality service on a regular basis, but the Honduran midfielder can also be dangerous in front of goal if he can get into scoring positions.
Shea Salinas could also provide some support to Wondolowski. The 25-year-old winger joined San Jose after back-to-back seasons with expansion teams, featuring for the Philadelphia Union in 2010 and Vancouver Whitecaps FC in 2011.
With creative forces in Tressor Moreno and Sercan Guvenisik also in the mix for playing time alongside Wondolowski, there could be a marked improvement in the cards for San Jose.
If the 'Quakes can't make it work with their new acquisitions, then it will need Steven Lenhart to bounce back with a big year.
Lenhart does a lot of the dirty work on the offensive end that doesn't necessarily show up on the score sheet, winning balls and pressuring the opposition's defenders with a tireless work rate. He missed a large portion of 2011 season following the death of his father, but if he can recapture his past form and play as a thorn in the sides of those marking him, then Lenhart's capabilities will compliment Wondolowski's poaching skills.
2011 IN REVIEW: Despite two wins from its last three matches, San Jose fell short of the postseason. The 'Quakes finished seventh in the West on 38 points behind an 8-12-14 record, but the focus down the stretch was on Wondolowski and his race for the MLS Golden Boot.
ACQUISITIONS: Jean Alexandre (M), Victor Bernardez (D), Marvin Chavez (M), Sam Garza (M/F), Sercan Guvenisik (M/F), Jacob Hustedt (M), Tressor Moreno (M), Evan Newton (GK), Cesar Diaz Pizarro (F), Shea Salinas (M), Josh Suggs (D).
OUTLOOK: The 'Quakes are greatly improved on paper compared to last season, but they will find it difficult to clinch a playoff spot given the new regular season format that will pit them against stacked Western Conference opponents more frequently. With a bit of luck, San Jose may sneak into the postseason, but it is more likely that the club falls short again.