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2015 Western Conference Preview: San Jose Earthquakes

This team has some exciting young players and a new coach. It also finished dead-last in the Western Conference in 2014. Will 2015 be a step forward under Dom Kinnear, or more of the same?

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

San Jose Earthquakes

2014 Record: 6-16-12, 30 points, Ninth in Western Conference.  Missed Playoffs

2014 Goals For: 35, 18th in MLS

2014 Goals Against: 50, 10th in MLS

Key Additions: Innocent Emeghara, Marvell Wynne, Dom Kinnear, Avaya Stadium

Key Subtractions: Sam Cronin, Jon Busch, Yannick Djalo

2014 Key Stat: The Earthquakes had 128 blocks last year, more than any other team in MLS.

2015 Outlook: Miss the Playoffs. Probably by a lot.

What they've got going for them: San Jose finished last in the Western Conference last year, two points back of the dismal Colorado Rapids, so, much like the Rapids, they've got nowhere to go but up.

With a gorgeous brand new stadium, and a new coach in Dom Kinnear, there should be some buzz in San Jose.

Last year, the team's identity was to pack 10 behind the ball let the other team have possession; absorb pressure and counter, and get the ball to poacher-king Chris Wondolowski. This team has proven it can play defense, especially with Honduran international Victor Bernadez out-muscling any and every forward that comes his way.

Tommy Thompson is a fun-to-watch youngster with all the slick moves. Observe his first MLS start - skip to 0:32 seconds for the real show.

He hasn't yet shown an eye for goal, though. At this stage, he'd be a fantastic partner in a striker pair with Deshorn Brown; both could razzle-dazzle their way around defenders, then blow a 6 yard shot a mile wide. But maybe that gets better this year (God-willing, for Deshorn also). Innocent Emeghara is said to be very fast, and along with former Rapids Marvell Wynne and Sanni Nyassi, this team has some quality pace. Matias Perez Garcia only got 4 starts before getting shut down with a knee injury, and if he can be the number 10 they all think he can be, this team will be better.

So, if the Earthquakes can keep some of that defensive magic and generate some more offense this year, they could make a run at the playoffs.

What's Troubling: This team was not very good last year, and they didn't do a lot to change that this year. Not only that, but they play really boring soccer. They played three games against the Rapids; the scores were 0-0, 0-0, and 1-1. I believe I watched all three matches. I believe I have mentally blocked all of it out except the overwhelming feeling that those games were bad, boring soccer. And why? They still finished last in the Western Conference. Worse than Chivas. Worse than the Rapids. Why play boring soccer only to be dead-last? I don't get it.

Dom Kinnear is a proven winner in MLS. He won two MLS cups with the Houston Dynamo, and they played an up-tempo game that scored loads of goals with an in-his-prime Brian Ching. So Kinnear can win. But not with this team. It's all ifs and maybes: IF the team play evolves from a bunker mentality to something that can score goals; IF Innocent and Nyassi and Thompson become great; IF new GK David Bingham is any good; IF Matias Perez Garcia is fantastic.

This is just too much uncertainty in too strong a conference, so I predict this will be a rebuilding year almost surely for San Jose. Dom Kinnear will spend the year figuring out what pieces to keep and what to jettison, and what style to employ. And then he'll go out next winter and buy a couple DPs to make this team a real threat. If some of these other ‘ifs' resolve positively, this team can scrap for that last playoff spot. But as I see it, this team has an uphill battle just to get back to the 30 points they had in 2014.