This time last year, there was a totally different kind of disappointment over at San Jose Earthquakes headquarters. Yes, they had missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season, but they battled to the very end and came within a couple of points of earning an invitation to the dance.
That sort of late-season run filled the franchise and fans with optimism heading into 2016.
But after an 8-12-14 mark, a ninth place finish in the Western Conference that tied for the worst since their return to MLS and the firing of a general manager midseason, the Quakes are a team faced with the idea of having to stop backwards momentum and restore faith with a fan base that is antsy for a winner on the field.
MVP: Chris Wondolowski fits the truest definition of valuable for the Earthquakes. Off the field, the forward continued and expanded his role of face and ambassador for the franchise. You’d be hard pressed to find another MLS player who exemplifies their club more than Wondolowski.
On the field, it’s almost cringe-worthy to think of where the Quakes would be without Wondolowski. As expected, for yet another season, he led the team in goals with 12 and was fourth in assists -- but his numbers are amplified by a San Jose offense that finished last in MLS with just 32 goals scored this season.
And most importantly, an offense that already struggled to find the back of the net would take an even greater (and incredibly visible) hit when Wondolowski was not in the lineup playing for the U.S. Men’s National Team, or just flat out struggling – consider that in the months when Wondolowski did not score, whether on international duty or not, the Quakes only managed 12 of the possible 36 points and scored two or more goals in a single match just three times.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: A few names come to mind, but with a back line that was ravaged by injuries peppered throughout the season, Marvell Wynne demonstrated the versatility and consistency the Quakes desperately needed. Wynne played all along Dominic Kinnear’s back line, logging the fourth-most minutes on the team behind two other DPOY candidates in David Bingham and Victor Bernardez, plus the aforementioned Wondolowski.
San Jose will have a tough choice to make with Wynne in the offseason with his contract up and a well-deserved raise in the cards -- but his age and its value proposition comes into question. Yet in 2016, Wynne was a lifeline for the Quakes.
BEST OF TIMES: With just eight wins this season, there weren’t a ton of bright spots for the Quakes. But they earned a huge moral victory for northern California soccer when they hosted the MLS All-Star Game.
For a week, San Jose, Silicon Valley and Avaya Stadium was the center of the MLS universe as the stars convened on Coleman Avenue to celebrate the sport.
WORST OF TIMES: It seems pretty crazy to remember that the Quakes actually got off to the best start in franchise history when they won back-to-back games for their first 2-0-0 start ever and a strong 3-1-2 record through their first six matches.
But injuries to the back line and up front (see: Quincy Amarikwa), made thing very difficult for Kinnear to put his best 11 on the field consistency.
Those injuries, coupled with San Jose’s inability to find any sort of traction or winning consistency away from Avaya Stadium really put the season on the down slope. The Quakes only won one road match in 2016.
THE GREAT UNKNOWN: Currently, the Quakes are a team without a general manager. And for a team that obviously needs a couple of pieces, the sooner they hand the reins to someone, the better.
The Earthquakes hired Nolan Partners, the world's largest sports executive search firm, to help identify the club's next GM while technical director Chris Leitch currently fills that void.
According to the Quakes, Nolan Partners will conduct the search both domestically and internationally, using a strict set of criteria to find the best candidates in line with the organization's long-term aspirations.
The clock is ticking though.
KEY AREA TO FIX: Offense.
Not to sound overly dramatic with the one-word paragraphs, but with just 32 goals this season, and a formula dependent so much on just one player, the Quakes have to hit the drawing board hard and look to add a couple of pieces to make them more competitive up front.
A full offseason with Simon Dawkins could be beneficial – so should the resigning of Alberto Quintero.
But finding a true No. 9 to play in front of Wondolowski and allow the master to roam free underneath where he can do major damage would go a long way in making a much-needed ascent up the offensive categories.
THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS: For those who have resigned themselves to the idea of San Jose being a big-market, high-budget team, the focus has naturally shifted to the youth movement that should follow. The Quakes have taken steps towards that with affiliation deals in the Premier Development League (Burlingame Dragons FC) and the United Soccer League (Sacramento Republic and Reno 1868) to look and develop the next wave of Earthquakes.
The big picture revolves around when the Quakes decide to flip the switch and fully commit to young talent coming through that pipeline. In 2016, San Jose was one of the oldest teams in MLS – could 2017 be the start of the long-awaited Quakes youth movement?