Daily Kickoff - 6.25.24
What you need to know

San Jose part ways with Gonzalez

The San Jose Earthquakes have parted ways with head coach Luchi Gonzalez. Assistant Ian Russell will lead the club on an interim basis while a head coach search unfolds. Fellow assistant coaches Steve Ralston, Luciano Fusco and Adin Brown will remain in their current roles. Gonzalez departs with the Earthquakes last in the Western Conference and overall MLS standings. Gonzalez led San Jose to the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs as a No. 9 seed during his first season at the helm.

Sporting KC part ways with Bliss

Sporting Kansas City have parted ways with technical director and vice president of player personnel Brian Bliss. The move comes after Matchday 22's 4-0 setback as the Columbus Crew extended SKC's losing streak to three games, with the club losing 10 of their last 11 matches to drop to 13th place in the Western Conference. Bliss had been with Kansas City since 2016, originally as director of player personnel before taking on his most recent roles three years later. Sporting will make an announcement regarding the club's technical staff in the coming days.

Austin sign Ukrainian center back Svatok

Austin FC have acquired center back Oleksandr Svatok from Ukrainian Premier League side SC Dnipro-1. The 29-year-old Ukranian international defender is under contract through 2027 with an option for 2028. Svatok will be eligible to debut when the MLS Secondary Transfer Window opens on July 18. He is Austin's third summer signing, joining DP winger Osman Bukari and defender Mikkel Desler.

Chicago Fire U-15s, LA Galaxy U-17s win titles

The 2023-24 MLS NEXT season concluded Sunday at Nashville SC’s GEODIS Park, with four teams crowned champions at the 2024 MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs.

Two big changes in the West

Two Western Conference teams are battling it out for the Wooden Spoon right now. Both decided to make major changes on Monday.

For San Jose, the breaking point came after their week ended with getting whooped 6-2 at LAFC. For Sporting KC, a 4-0 loss at Columbus was the final straw. SKC have given up four goals in each of their last three games.

The Quakes ended the weekend on 0.58 points per game. Sporting KC ended on 0.7. They’re 14 and 11 points out of a playoff spot, respectively. SKC have allowed 44 goals, the second-worst mark in the league. The Quakes have allowed a league-worst 51 goals.

If y’all haven’t picked up on it, none of these moves came as a shock.

Luchi Gonzalez out in San Jose

In 2023, I saw Gonzalez’s first game in charge in person. I came away impressed. It sure seemed like the Quakes had made positive additions to their roster. Midfielder Carlos Gruezo and center back Jonathan Mensah looked like the kinds of pieces that would solidify San Jose defensively, and Cristian Espinoza and Jeremy Ebobisse are a good enough attacking front to get you into the playoffs. You could see from the jump how this group had room to grow in the West.

As impressed as I was, they came away from that match with a 2-1 loss vs. Atlanta United after conceding two stoppage-time goals. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the omens.

To be fair, San Jose got it together after that. They picked up 26 points through their first 17 games. They were fourth in the West.

Over the next 17 games, they earned 18 points. Only Colorado had a worse second half of the season. The Quakes finished ninth in the standings and immediately crashed out of the playoffs in the Wild Card. Obviously, things didn’t improve from there.

It’s hard to know exactly what to make of it. This roster is far from devoid of talent. It’s not an elite group, but (at least on paper) it’s not the worst team in the West. They’re certainly not a team that should be allowing almost three goals per game. But that does speak to what’s clearly their biggest issue this year.

San Jose are having an all-time terrible goalkeeping season right now. It doesn't matter who they throw out there. The four worst shot-stopping goalkeepers this season by the numbers are San Jose’s William Yarbrough, Colorado’s Zack Steffen, San Jose’s Jacob Jackson and San Jose’s Daniel. It’s honestly impressive. The Quakes have collectively allowed 14 goals more than their post-shot xG faced.

Historically terrible goalkeeping can derail everything. Think about how tough it can be to overcome a losing game state. Now imagine how tough it is (and how panicked your defense will be at every shooting opportunity) when every other shot goes in. It’s not the only reason Gonzalez got dismissed, but fixing what’s going on in goal is priority A1.

From there, it’s not totally clear. The attacking front seems set and is pretty solid all things considered. Hernán López looks capable of living up to the DP tag and Espinoza is still doing Espinoza things. He has 10 assists on the season. New signing Amahl Pellegrino has five goals this year. Ebobisse is Ebobisse. They aren’t an elite group, but they don’t lack quality.

The rest of the roster… well, it needs some work. It seems like moving on from Gruezo might be the first step. Then there are likely a handful of other moves to make. A new manager can only do so much here.

No Bliss in Kansas City

Technical director Brian Bliss is out at Sporting KC. Like Gonzalez’s exit, this feels like the first move of many on the way. We don’t have to waste time here: The entire roster needs a refresh. They need to replace aging/injured DPs, they need to replace… just so much of it.

Sporting KC provided the mirror image of San Jose’s 2023 season last year. They were stuck at the bottom of the West before the second half of the season hit. From there, they put together an absolute heater of a run that pushed them to a playoff spot where they took down San Jose in the Wild Card game and then ran over first-place St. Louis CITY in Round One.

Even at the time, it felt like a mirage. The underlying numbers weren’t great during that run. But it did enough to convince folks that running it back with a largely unchanged group might be enough to keep that momentum going. Now we’re here. And it feels like Bliss is just the first domino to fall.

And Other Things

Cucho named Player of the Matchday: Cucho Hernández scored a hat trick to lead the Columbus Crew's 4-0 win over Sporting Kansas City and take MLS Player of the Matchday honors for Matchday 22.

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