(SportsNetwork.com) - After nine years away from the San Jose Earthquakes, head coach Dominic Kinnear returns to revive a franchise in need of a breath of fresh air.
Kinnear's first stint at the club included a pair of MLS Cup titles as an assistant coach while he guided the 'Quakes to the Supporters' Shield in 2005 before leaving with the team for Houston.
But after San Jose captured another Supporters' Shield in 2012, the team has failed to reach the postseason in each of the past two years, including a six- win campaign last year that resulted in the 'Quakes finishing last in the Western Conference.
Former boss Mark Watson had the interim tag removed following an 11-5-3 run to close out the 2013 season. However, last year's struggles cost him his job, and Kinnear has now been charged with turning things back in the right direction.
A 15-match winless streak left a bad taste in the mouth of everyone at the club, but as defender Clarence Goodson said after the appointment of Kinnear, the boss certainly has the backing of his players.
"I think the coach automatically has the respect of the team," Goodson said of Kinnear's arrival. "It's what you do with that respect from Day 1. Do you continue to gain more respect, or do players start to not believe in some cases? And I think Dom is a guy, wherever he's been, he's had tons of respect. His track record speaks for itself.
"For me, it's very exciting to be here with a coach that I believe in 100 percent, someone that I know if we listen and do what he asks of us, we're going to have a lot of success personally and collectively. That's what you want."
And Kinnear has not wasted a lot of time in stamping his mark on this year's Earthquakes.
A trio of long-time players, Jon Busch, Sam Cronin and Jason Hernandez, has each moved on during a busy offseason, and Kinnear has made clear the fact that he has no loyalty to anyone on the team, and he is treating his return as if he was coming to a totally new side.
"The one thing I said was, I didn't want to be a butcher, but I have no loyalty to anybody here," Kinnear said. "I've been gone for nine years. I have to look at it as not the guy that came from 2005. I have to look at it [as], I'm a brand-new coach coming into this team. So I have to look at it with a completely blank slate."
While Kinnear jettisoned a few core players, he also made sure to restock his roster with speed in the form of defender Marvell Wynne as well as midfielders Leandro Barrera and Sanna Nyassi, while Swiss forward Innocent Emeghara may be the most important piece after being signed as a Designated Player in January.
The 25-year-old is expected to open up space for Chris Wondolowski, who was San Jose's only real goal threat last season, leading the club with 14 goals.
Emeghara's partnership with Wondolowski will be key in San Jose's success this season, and the Swiss frontman is also hopeful that he can parlay a strong stint in MLS into a return to the Swiss national team after failing to earn a cap for the past two years.
Defensively, it will be interesting to see how the center back pairing of Goodson and Victor Bernardez works, while a full season with Designated Player Matias Perez Garcia could also provide a big boost.
Perez Garcia played in just six games after arriving at the club during the season because of injury, and his playmaking ability will be key for a side that finished with the second-fewest goals in MLS at just 35.
The goalkeeping situation is an area of uncertainty as the club will turn to either David Bingham or Bryan Meredith between the posts following the departure of veteran Jon Busch, who started all 34 games in the league last season.
There are plenty of questions surrounding San Jose as the club enters the 2015 season, but one thing is for sure, and that is the club's belief in Kinnear.
"You can tell [from] the way he carries himself, the way he gives instructions, that he's confident and he knows what he's doing," midfielder Shea Salinas said of Kinnear. "And that comes across in the way we train and the way we're going to play. There's no doubt or hesitation when he tells you to do something. He knows how he likes it and he knows what's successful."
ACQUISITIONS: Leandro Barrera (M), Mark Sherrod (F), Marvell Wynne (D), Sanna Nyassi (M), Innocent Emeghara (F).
LOSSES: Jason Hernandez (D), Jon Busch (GK), Andreas Gorlitz (D), Atiba Harris (M), Yannick Djalo (M), Sam Cronin (M).
OUTLOOK: With so much room for improvement from last season, Kinnear should at least see some promising signs that his team is better than last year's version. The question, however, is how much better? If Emeghara can form an effective partnership with Wondolowski, San Jose will be a much more dangerous side in front of goal. And the hope is that a full season with Perez Garcia will only help produce goals. However, there are questions between the posts with Busch leaving as well as the back line after the departures of Hernandez and Andreas Gorlitz. The midfield will also have new faces without Cronin and Atiba Harris, which adds up to a lot of uncertainty. Kinnear may well be the right man for the job, but it's unlikely he will see immediate results, which probably means a third straight year without a playoff appearance.