Jesse Fioranelli to blame for Earthquakes woes

Jesse Fioranelli

(Editorial) – After Saturday’s 6-1 shellacking at the hands of the Portland Timbers, Earthquakes GM, Jesse Fioranelli, took to the podium post-match instead of Matias Almeyda. Almeyda had a headache according to Fioranelli, which I’m not 100% sure everyone buys. If he had a headache, it might be because of the squad he has to select a 20 man sheet from every week.

Fioranelli sat in front of reporters and made a public appeal to the supporters that he knows they need to correct things, most of which rings hollow considering the dead silence after a 7-1 loss previously.

“I can assure you based on what the work, the effort and also the commitment has been of the entire first team, I have no doubt in these last 11 games that we’re going to present ourselves in a different way” he said. “And we will keep strengthening this team. We’ll have to have some deeper discussions but one thing is for sure, this is not who we are and we will correct the course.”

The Quakes won’t go much farther with Jesse Fioranelli making decisions

It’s been pretty clear that Fioranelli has underestimated the overall talent level of the league. That was blatantly apparent this year when they touted their major expenditure (a club record no less) was keeping Christian Espinoza, and not adding anything to a team that still failed to make playoffs despite a strong half-season stretch in the middle. A reminder that the club was upset at the fact people said they weren’t spending, that was what they pointed to. They spent money to keep someone, and not to add on, while everyone else in their conference and league jumped significantly in the expenditure department. The Whitecaps and Sporting KC were dropping nearly eight-figure transfer fees while the Earthquakes wanted plaudits for spending money to keep a player that they honestly, probably overpaid for anyways.

In looking back to Fioranelli’s hire, here is something ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle wrote regarding Fioranelli’s arrival:

“While Fioranelli’s resume is impressive, he lacks any familiarity with MLS, a league constrained by a salary cap and convoluted roster rules. Fioranelli will likely lean heavily on Leitch, who will retain his technical director role, as well as Kinnear to get him up to speed. The hope is Fioranelli’s extensive list of contacts will allow San Jose to have more success in recruiting designated players from overseas — an area in which the Quakes have done poorly since the team’s rebirth in 2008.”

So let’s take a look at those “overseas additions.” After analyzing the Quakes transfer activity since his hire, we created a spreadsheet that shows the ins and outs per transfer window. The players listed have to have at least signed a contract with the Quakes first team, not just get drafted. For those in italics on the “In” side, they are still on the roster. Those in italics on the “Out” side are players that are under contract for first division teams still. (All acquisition records courtesy of transfermarkt.com)

Yr/Window IN (prev club) OUT
 2017 Winter  Matt Bersano (NCAA)  Innocent
 Jackson Yuiell (NCAA)  Alberto Quintero
 Harold Cummings (Araba Unido)  Jordan Steward
 Marcos Ureña (Brondby)  Steven Lenhart
 Jamir Hyka (Luzern)  Chad Barrett
 Nick Lima (NCAA) HG
 Danny Hoesen (Groningen)
 Lindo Mfeka (NCAA)
 2017 Summer
 Francois Affolter (Luzern)  Shaun Francis
 Vako (Vitesse)
 2018 Winter
 Joel Qwiberg (Brommapojkarna)  Victor Bernardez
 Magnus Eriksson (Djurgarden)  Cordell Cato
 JT Marcinkowski (NCAA) HG  Lindo Mfeka
 Eric Calvillo (NASL Cosmos)  Marc Pelosi
 Danny Musovski (NCAA)  Kofi Sarkodie
 Yeferson Quintana (Peñarol)  Marvelle Wynne
 Jimmy Ockford (USL)  David Bingham
 Chris Wehan (USL)  Darwin Cerén
 Luis Felipe (USL)  Marcos Ureña
 Jacob Akanyirige (Academy HG)  Andres Imperiale
 Gilbert Fuentes (Academy HG)  Simon Dawkins
2018 Summer
 Guram Kashia (Vitesse)  Quincy Amarikwa
Dominic Oduro  Fatai Alashe
2019 Winter
 Christian Espinoza (Villareal)  Yeferson Quintana
 Cade Cowell (Academy HG)  Danny Musovski
 Marcos Lopez (Sporting Cristal)  Jamir Hyka
 Daniel Vega (USL) Chris Wehan
 Siad Haji (NCAA)  
 Judson (Tombense)
2019 Summer
 Andres Rios (ARG 1)
 Carlos Fierro (MX 1)
2020 Winter
 Tanner Beason (NCAA)  Francois Affolter
 Jack Skahan (NCAA)  Anibal Godoy
 Casey Walls (Academy HG)  Andrew Tarbell
 Emmanuel Ochoa (Academy HG)  Harold Cummings
 Oswaldo Alanís (MX 1)  Jimmy Ockford
2020 Summer
 Magnus Eriksson

Yes, that’s a very large spreadsheet. But here is a quick breakdown of some numbers that are important:

  • Of the 36 acquisitions he has made, 24 of them remain on the roster, meaning this is very much Fioranelli’s burden to bear.
  • Of those 24 acquisitions still on the roster 15 of them were previously playing in NCAA (7), the Academy (5), and USL/NASL (3).
  • Half (18/36) of all acquisitions he’s made have come from NCAA, Academy, or USL/NASL.
  • Of the other half
  • There has been ONE acquisition of a player that previously played in MLS.
  • Of the 29 players Fioranelli has let go, 14 of them are still playing soccer in a top-flight league.

Investment still matters

While it would be easy to just lay the entirety of this at the feet of Jesse Fioranelli, it would ignore the financial restrictions he has had since he arrived. The Earthquakes owner, John Fischer, is the notorious ever cheapskate owner of the Oakland Athletics. His baseball franchise has not paid for one meaningful upgrade to their ballpark since he has been in charge, and is routinely near the bottom of team Salary in MLB. That is all in spite of him being the fifth richest owner in all of MLB. I’m sure you could take a guess as to where he’d fit in with MLS if that’s the case. But the San Jose Earthquakes are run like the smallest of teams, despite being in the top third of the league in terms of market size and support. There is no doubt that the investment has certainly hindered Fioranelli’s recruitment of players from overseas.

The Earthquakes spent the buildup to the 2020 season touting the fact they spent their club record amount to keep Christian Espinoza. Only Vako and Eriksson (no longer here) have had $1m spent on their acquisitions. Only Eriksson has really seemed to justify his transfer fee. But in the end, it’s the constant choice of depth players from smaller teams in “bigger leagues” that have ended up being the bulk of his non-stateside acquisitions. In reality, most of those players he has acquired from overseas, in the context of the league, are rotational players at best. This is where this stops being about Fischer’s investment, and Jesse’s evaluation, and valuation of MLS.

Why not MLS?

As mentioned before, Fioranelli has made one acquisition of a player who previously played in MLS. Yet he has cast off a multitude of players that have done well and played consistently for other MLS teams upon departure. The one in most recent memory is 2018 Draft pick, Danny Musovski, who still couldn’t get signed despite scoring at a torrid pace for their USL affiliate, Reno. By the way, in one of their recent spankings, Musovski scored against them.

The only team in MLS that has been worse than the San Jose Earthquakes this season has been the Chicago Fire. Nashville SC and Inter Miami as expansion teams have won more points, and to the eye look increasingly more competent than the Earthquakes. The Houston Dynamo have recently completed an extreme transformation, mainly involving the movement of MLS players in exchange for other MLS players, and instantly became a high flying Western Conference team. All strings for Houston have been pulled mainly by Tab Ramos, who, of course, was in the running to be GM alongside Jesse Fioranelli. Their turn-around almost overnight shows what you can do when you identify proper MLS talent.

What surprises me the most is that the Oakland A’s are notorious for picking up big-league talent undervalued by other teams, and turning them into studs for themselves, and eventually moving them on for a larger haul. If the San Jose Earthquakes want to play the small market card in terms of investment, this is absolutely the way to go for them. But just a reminder: they’ve attempted to monopolize the leagues most inefficient ways of adding players by using the draft, instead of offering draft picks, and other various things to improve the overall floor of the club by adding quality MLS players. They chose the cheapest route.

What the Earthquakes should do

Aside from creating a time machine, going back to December of 2016 and hiring Tab Ramos instead, John Fisher, Jared Shawlee, and the higher up decision-makers of the San Jose Earthquakes should do a few things:

  • Retain Matias Almeyda
  • Fire Jesse Fioranelli
  • Hire a GM familiar with the league, yet has overseas connections (there are a lot more of those dudes now!)
  • Hire scouts so you finally have more than one

Do I anticipate them doing any of it? Not really. It’s almost like asking a district attorney to do the right thing when handing out indictments on police brutality.

It’s clear that Fioranelli doesn’t understand the roster composition necessary to compete in MLS.  Then, after wholesale changes in roster and coaching staff following the 2017 season in which they made the postseason, he attempted to bolster the team with a majority of players who have never set foot in a top-level league, let alone MLS. The players he did bring over from Europe have been poor and inconsistent in production except for maybe Magnus Eriksson.

Jackson Yuiell was drafted just days after Jesse Fioranelli arrived, meaning the decision, scouting, and identification of Yuiell had to fall squarely on Chris Leitch’s shoulders, not Fioranelli’s. The type of player the Earthquakes sought after when Matias Almeyda arrived shifted from random European countries to South America, meaning Almeyda began requesting players be brought over. Some of those are questionable as well, but who’s to say those were even in the range of Matias’ top 20 asks thanks to the budget crunch San Jose chooses to operate with.

The problem the Quakes have right now is unfixable in the current climate. That means this all circles back to Jesse Fioranelli’s mismanagement of the roster. Hampered by a budget, Fioranelli has yet to find a way to operate efficiently and positively within those confines.  That just doesn’t fly when your team is trying to play money-ball. So if the front office likely won’t make any changes, maybe Jesse can finally make some changes in how they recruit. And instead of virtually casting Chris Leitch and Ian Russell to Reno, maybe you can lean on their interleague knowledge instead of relying on fringe draft picks and USL players.

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