Some Realistic Solutions at Left Back for the San Jose Earthquakes
The Earthquakes have had a “left-back problem” since trading Justin Morrow to Toronto in 2013 (in exchange for allocation money that was probably used on nothing useful, yes I am still salty). Here are some of my choices for potential solutions for the team at the position:
Larín is 25 years old and plays for the El Salvador national team alongside Quakes midfielder Darwin Cerén. He played 90 minutes in El Salvador’s 3-1 loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup last weekend, and has become a regular at the left back position for La Selecta. Larín spent 3 years with Liga MX’s Tigres UANL, but never actually saw the pitch for them. He spent his time on loan in Ascenso MX and with other clubs in El Salvador. He transferred to Alianza FC this June in El Salvador after a year on loan with them.
He stands 5’7” tall, and is a very capable attacking outside attacking back. He has a knack for finding the back of the net – with 10 goals in 49 appearances since he joined Alianza in 2016. If the Quakes continue with the 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation, Larín would make for a nice wing back on the left side. He is a very good free kick taker, and also took this beautiful penalty kick against Mexico’s Guiellrmo Ochoa.
Larín would be making a big jump in quality from the Salvadoran first division to MLS. He has some room for improvement as a 1v1 defender and as a passer, but he would be a relatively cheap signing for the Quakes and certainly would bring more value than Shaun Francis or Kofi Sarkodie currently do. The signing would be a bit of a risk unlike most of Fioranelli’s signings to this date, but it would ultimately be a low-cost risk and would certainly be worthwhile if there are no other options. El Salvador have a solid chance of advancing out of Group C if they can beat Jamaica and Curaçao, and if they do, it will be a nice opportunity to see Larín face some more MLS level talent and get a better gage for where he is at right now.
Gutiérrez is probably my favorite of the three choices. He is 20 years old and currently plays for Unión Española on loan from Colo Colo in the Chilean first division. He came up through Colo Colo’s academy and B team, but was born in Quebec and has a Canadian passport. Cristián has a twin brother, Diego, that plays for the Canada U-20s.
He stands about 5’9” tall, and is a relatively balanced fullback. He can defend well, but he can also attack. In his last 15 matches played, Gutiérrez has a passing accuracy of 84.41%, and more importantly a forward passing accuracy of 80.54%. For some context, Shaun Francis has a passing accuracy of 73.36% this year and a forward passing accuracy of 57.95%. Gutiérrez is also a very good passer in the final third with an accuracy of 84.42% along with 2 assists this season. I think these stats are relevant because the Chilean first division has a lot of quality in it, and several players that are probably comparable to MLS level players.
The Quakes would have an excellent opportunity to develop him along with Nick Lima and continue make the back line younger. Like any other international signing, I think he would need some time to ramp up to life in MLS, but he would certainly be an excellent prospect that could become a regular starter very quickly.
Yes, I know Marvell Wynne isn’t a left back, but playing him at right back and allowing Nick Lima to play as an inverted fullback on the left side is a real possibility in the short term. Lima has experience playing on the left side with Burlingame Dragons and with Cal. Wynne was sidelined earlier in the year after undergoing a heart procedure to fix an irregular heartbeat. Just 3 months later, Wynne is already back doing conditioning drills and is aiming to make a return from what was a life-threatening condition.
“I’m really confident he is going to come back and play,” said Jesse Fioranelli according to this article by Elliott Almond. “When that is I will leave it up to the doctors. But looking at how much he has improved, it’s sooner rather than later.”
As Quakes fans know, Wynne has been an incredibly effective defender since joining the Quakes in 2015. He still has some pace for his age, but is not quite as technically gifted as Nick Lima is. He would make for a solid anchor in the Quakes back line, allowing Lima to get forward even more. Wynne could also play in the center of of a 5-3-2 or a 3-5-2, but he would not be a good fit as a wingback.
It is unlikely that the Quakes trade for a left-back in the upcoming window simply because there aren’t a lot of left backs that are on the trading block in MLS. Historically, quality fullbacks are harder to come by than other positions in MLS. Kip Colvey was a great pick up for the Quakes in the 2016 draft, and he could certainly develop into a solid player for the team. He has gained a lot of experience with Reno, and he has featured for the Quakes in the US Open Cup, but I don’t think he is quite ready to make the jump to being a regular starter yet. Looking at the academy, there are not currently any left-backs that could be signed homegrown any time soon. Bryce Clark at SMU is a solid right back, but he does not have as big an upside as Nick Lima does. Building through the draft is also certainly a possibility, and Jesse Fioranelli has showed that he has a good eye for talent even through just watching the combine. Fioranelli identified Jackson Yueill and Lindo Mfeka, who have been excellent pick ups for the Quakes. The Quakes haven’t drafted a solid defender in the first round since Tommy Muller in 2013, so I think they are definitely due in 2018 given there isn’t any phenomenal attacking talent.
In his most recent article, Matthew Doyle mentions Columbus Crew LB Waylon Francis in his list of players that could potentially be on the trading block. Francis would be an upgrade at the position, but is currently making around $250,000 in guaranteed compensation. The Quakes would most likely have to off load another player to in exchange to make the trade work with the current cap situation. The Quakes managed to trade away Adam Jahn to the Crew last year, so perhaps they can make a deal work again.
Jesse Fioranelli has worked his fair share of magic since taking over in January, but going back in time and keeping John Doyle from trading away some of our best players would be the icing on the cake.
It is also worth noting that Quakes Brasil, who has been very good with these sorts of things, also had these things to say about some of the CONCACAF left backs currently playing in the Gold Cup.
Gillian Justiana (26) looked good today for Curaçao too. Seems to be a goal scorer LB, but it's a long shot. Plays in Dutch 2nd division.
— SJE Brasil (7-7-5) (@SJEarthquakesBR) July 10, 2017