Santa Clara, CA (Sports Network) - The San Jose Earthquakes were clearly the best team in Major League Soccer during the regular season last year, running away with the Supporters' Shield with 66 points.
But they faltered in the postseason for the second consecutive year, losing 3-2 on aggregate to the eventual champion Los Angeles Galaxy.
Despite the playoff setback, it was a successful campaign, one which the Quakes will look to repeat in 2013 with a largely unaltered roster.
San Jose was carried by U.S. international Chris Wondolowski up top. Wondolowski had an incredible offensive year, bagging 27 goals to tie Roy Lassiter for the single-season goal scoring record.
The magic in Wondolowski's boots ran out a bit in the postseason, but he likely won't have to reproduce his exceptional numbers from last season in order for the Earthquakes to have a successful campaign.
Luckily for Frank Yallop's club the side has plenty of viable options in attack to help Wondo with the scoring burden.
In addition to Wondolowski, Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart will be counted on to put the ball in the back of the net this season. Gordon had an outstanding 2012 season in which he played in 23 matches and scored 13 goals to go with seven assists. The California native benefited from playing with Wondolowski and should have another productive year in 2013.
Lenhart, meanwhile, has thrived in Northern California since coming over from the Columbus Crew following the 2010 season. In two seasons with San Jose, Lenhart has netted 15 goals and added five assists.
He has built on his reputation as a player that does a lot of dirty work in front of goal that won't show up on a box score. He will track back to clear balls off the line, win important balls in the air and provide energy off the bench late in the game.
The Florida native has also thrived as a player that most opponents do not want to face, one of those players that other teams would consider a pest. But he certainly is a player you would want on your team.
Joining the club up top is gritty forward Mike Fucito, who was acquired in a trade from the Portland Timbers in January. The four-year MLS veteran has played 36 career regular-season matches for Seattle Sounders FC (2009-11), Montreal (2012) and Portland (2012), recording three goals and two assists.
"Mikes the type of player that we like," Yallop said. "He's hard working, aggressive and I always liked him from his days in Seattle. To see him on our team is great."
The majority of the Earthquakes midfield returns as Sam Cronin, Marvin Chavez, Brad Ring and San Garza will patrol the middle of the park. Khari Stephenson, however, will not be returning to the club this season, as the Jamaica native was released following the 2012 term.
Defensively, San Jose is solid with Jason Hernandez, U.S. international Steven Beitashour, Justin Morrow and Dan Gargan likely to get starting spots. Beitashour started 33 of the club's 34 games last season, but will be out for the first 4-6 weeks of 2013 after undergoing surgery to correct a sports hernia.
Veteran defender Ramiro Corrales returns for his 11th season with the Earthquakes, but will have a slightly different role this term. Corrales, the only active player remaining to play every season since the league's inception in 1996, will assume the role of player-coach for 2013.
Corrales ranks fifth in club history with 30 assists and is ninth in goals with 16.
"Ramiro has proven over the years that he's an excellent player in our league and on our team. We're excited to have him for this season and beyond," said Yallop.
With the majority of the roster intact, San Jose should be near the top of the Western Conference again, but they will need offensive contributions from players not named Wondolowski to make a deep run in the MLS playoffs.
2012 IN REVIEW: San Jose ran away with the Supporters Shield crown, losing just six times en route to a 66-point season. But they ran out of gas in the playoffs against Los Angeles.
ACQUISITIONS: Dan Gargan (D), Ty Harden (D), Mike Fucito (F).
LOSSES: Khari Stephenson (M), Ike Opara (D), Joey Gjertsen (D/M), Tim Ward (D).
OUTLOOK: Wondolowski, Gordon and Lenhart should drive an effective offense, while the defense and veteran goalkeeper Jon Busch should do a nice job keeping the ball out of the net. Wondolowski will probably not put up the kind of numbers he did in 2012, but the balanced attack should allow San Jose to easily reach the postseason again. It's whether that offense can produce once they get to the playoff which will dictate how strong of a title contender the 'Quakes are.