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 San Jose Earthquakes

Earthquakes General Manager Chris Leitch Speaks to Media

June 24, 2024 - Major League Soccer (MLS)
San Jose Earthquakes News Release


SAN JOSE, Calif. - The San Jose Earthquakes hosted a virtual press conference with general manager Chris Leitch today after announcing they had parted ways with head coach Luchi Gonzalez and elevated assistant Ian Russell to interim head coach.

EARTHQUAKES GENERAL MANAGER CHRIS LEITCH

Opening statement:

"First and foremost, I'd like to start by thanking Luchi for the time he spent at this club for the last year and a half. Luchi has worked tirelessly with his co-workers, the technical staff, medical team, performance team, as well as individually with all our players to make them the best players and staff they can possibly be, so I really appreciate all the efforts that he put in. That being said, it was time to make a change. This is a results-oriented business. We weren't getting the results and so we felt we needed to go in this direction. And I'm very much excited for Ian Russell to ascend into the head coaching role for the interim. I'm really excited to see his energy and see what he brings to the table. He's a proven winner, and I know he's going to do a good job leading this group."

On the decision to elevate Ian Russell to interim head coach:

"We're giving up way too many goals. I think we've given up over 50 goals already this year. That's more than what we gave up all of last year. I'd say we've also been competitive in a lot of games though, too. We can't forget that. I think 10 of the 19 games we've held the lead. Unfortunately though, we've dropped 20 points from winning positions, so we need to change some of those things. We need to turn losses into ties, and ties into wins, and those are things we weren't able to do. And so the hope with Ian, with his experience in changing some things here, is to get this group over the hump so we can do those things that I speak of. Ian is a proven winner. He knows how to win. I think it's going to approach some things differently. Maybe a little more practicality, simplifying some things."

On if the Quakes will be active in the next transfer window:

"When you've given up that many goals, I think the first thought is along the back four and the goalkeeper. I don't think that's the case. Defending is a whole team effort, so by the time the ball gets to our back line, as Ian said this morning, that back line should be at times only picking up the scraps. So it's not just on the defensive part to your question about concession of goals, it's a whole team effort that we have to address. As far as the transfer window goes ... we're always looking to improve this roster. At the same time, we feel this roster is a stronger one than we're able to show, so we feel like this roster has underperformed that part of it. But we will be looking at this window, as we always do, in different ways to improve the quality of the team."

On whether it's possible for the interim tag to turn into something permanent:

"With Ian being the interim [head coach], I think every interim job is an audition of sorts. It's a different audition because you have certain restraints in taking over a team midseason than you would if you had a whole preseason. There's a whole other set of challenges. I think Ian is going to take this opportunity and run with it. The team is looking forward to a change of pace, change of voice. We've been competitive for large stretches in these games. However, we haven't done enough to get the results over the totality of 90 minutes. The hope is that we continue some of the good stuff that we're doing that Luchi and the staff and his team has shown that we're able to do. Whether it's confidence, quality tactics, practicality, or attacking play to get us over the hump and turn these losses into ties and these ties into wins. We believe in this team. We think the roster is better than the three wins that we have so far the first 19 games.

On Russell's qualifications:

"He's had a lot of good experience as a player and as a coach. He's known this club for a long time. He's been an assistant in different iterations there. He's also been a part of every major thing this club has won. In '01 and '03 as a player with the two MLS Cups that we won, and then again in '05 as a player with a Supporters' Shield and again in 2012. He's been around some of the high points of this club. He did a really good job in Reno [as head coach of Reno 1868], obviously in the four years there he made the playoffs all four of those years. He was up for a Coach of the Year finalist in three of those four years. and he won Coach of the Year in 2020. He has a plus-97 goal differential. Those are indicators that Ian knows how to win. Obviously he knows his club really well and understands the spirit of this club, and he's got a lot of pride for this club. He knows that we're not there, where we need to be as a club and I think he's going to take a prideful approach to try and make those necessary changes."

On the difficult circumstances the team has faced:

"I don't think we've ever had what you would consider our first-choice back line, back six together for even one game. So make no mistake about it, we've been shorthanded at times. That being said, every team goes through challenges throughout a given year. MLS has short, small rosters and the league season is a tough, grueling season, so I'm not making an excuse, but we have had those things to persevere through. Obviously losing our starting goalie (Daniel), starting center back (Bruno Wilson). We have had [Carlos] Gruezo our at Copa [America] right now. Carlos has been injured here and there; [Rodrigues] has been off here and there. Anytime you have injuries or you're shorthanded is an opportunity for the next guy to step up. You brought up a guy like Daniel Munie. Good to see him get a lot of really good minutes and kind of ascend into meaningful MLS minutes to see how he's going to handle playing an important position in important MLS games. It's got to be a collective effort defensively. We've given up an alarming amount of goals. You can't pin that on a back four or a goalie; you can't pin that on just injuries. I think we're all responsible for that part of it. It's got to start on the field from an on-field perspective, with our forwards along the midfield so that collectively we're being a team that's hard to break down. That's winning the ball in better parts of the field so we don't have to defend our box as much as we have this year. We have defended lower this year than what I think we need to. All in all, it's a collective effort that we've a letdown on the defensive side."

On the timing of the decision to part ways with Luchi Gonzalez:

"When we set out to hire Luchi, Luchi was the candidate that fared in the best way and in the profile that we were looking for, for sure. I think you can say that there was progress there, too. Last year we made the playoffs, which was one of our minimum goals, but obviously lost in the first round on penalty kicks. We were hoping for more progress this year, and have underperformed. The roster has underperformed a bit. It's never any one game. Obviously it wasn't a good game against LAFC. For me, it was the first time we really got thumped. That said we're playing away; we're playing away, and we're playing one of the best teams in the league, but it was the body of work. Not an impressive home record. We got to do a better job of playing at PayPal [Park] and around PayPal, whether it's Levi's or Stanford. ... You need to be a team that fights like hell to get those results at home. Three wins, it's got to be more than just playing well over stretches. We got to have a group that can get this group united in a way to have them being able to see out these games for positive results and wins."

On if one game was the deciding factor to make a change:

"It was just the body of work, especially this year. Not an impressive home record. We've got to do a better job at taking care of playing around PayPal [Park], whether that's Levi's [Stadium] or Stanford [Stadium]. We just haven't gotten the results at home and you need to be a team that fights like hell to get those results at home. It's got to be more than just playing well or playing well over stretches. We've got to have a group and a staff that can get that group united in a way that have been able to see out these games for positive results in wins."

On Russell's history with the club and hopes for the future:

"He has already today, from what I saw, started talking to the team about his expectations and what he believes needs to change within that team. Ian has history with this club in a really good way. He's been a part of more than most of the big moments. ... We have a beautiful stadium and a great fan base. We're going to be drawing on that history for sure. Also looking forward and making sure that we're keeping a really high standard. That's what this team is looking for. I know that's what this region is looking for. It's also what our players expect. Our players have a high standard. They're pros. They want to win, and we need to do everything we can to make sure we're connecting the future to some of the past results of this club."

On taking responsibility to identify areas of improvement:

"All of us are responsible for this - myself, the rest of the staff to be able to pick it up, the players to be able to take some of the good things they do, or some of the good things we have done this year, and there's been a lot of those good things and up to them to continue to make that a part of our game. It's also the realization that we've been competitive with every team we've played against except for maybe a couple, and you can make the argument that we should have won more than half of our games. It's the responsibility of all of us to figure out that last 10% or whatever else is needed. Whether it's the 80th minute, whether it's the last 10 minutes of the half, whatever that is. We need to make sure that we're figuring that out, identifying that and I think every coach is going to have a different idea. We'd like to get a couple players back from injury. Hopefully this is also a signal that things do need to change."

On the team's outlook for the remainder of the season:

"We've been competitive in a lot of games, but we must now show that we're good enough for 90 minutes and to get those results. We want to prove to everyone that we're a good enough team to get those results and I think that starts Saturday first against a rival at Stanford. Our players are pros. They want to win. It's not for lack of trying, that's for darn sure. We also have some big competitions out there this year too like Leagues Cup. Today I don't want to talk about playoffs or anything other than getting that right. Putting the players in a position where they can optimize their performance, getting to the point where they can turn in stretches of games where we're playing well and turning that into wins and getting the result. That's what I'm looking for. It starts this Saturday against LA in an awesome stadium there at Stanford, and hopefully a packed house."

On the strong academy players in the Quakes' pathway:

"It is important to us as a club to consider how our players in our pipeline are coming up through our club. We have more youth national team players than I think any club in MLS. I think we have more Homegrown Players on our roster than most, if not all teams in MLS. We just recently had Kaedren Spivey be named the best player under 15 in the country. Make no mistake about it. We have a really good team - good young players in our club. We want to make sure that we have that pathway from our academy to our second team, which is a very good team coached by Dan DeGeer, who obviously has experience in the academy all the way up towards our first team. We're always looking for ways to integrate our young players to make sure that they're getting opportunities along their professional career path."

On the young talent available for the roster:

"As a club right now, we need to get results. That's going to be the first order of business. Our concentration right now is making sure that our team and the experienced players within our roster are put in positions to optimize their potential. We also have young players. Niko [Tsakiris] has been playing for us. I think he's one of two [players born in 2005] in the country that are playing regularly in MLS. That's not something we shouldn't be proud of. He also plays one of the most important positions on the field, too. Whether it's Niko or the other young players that we either have been training every day or that make the bench, all those players will have a shot moving forward. Ian has a history in player development as well. He understands our academy; he knows these young players. He's very familiar with those guys. He will be, I would imagine, continuing to call those players in their trainings every day so he can evaluate them, whether it's for possible selection into the first-team roster or to be a bigger part of the team moving forward."

On the players moving forward without Gonzalez:

"I really respect the professionalism of all our players. They come in every single day and they honestly work so hard. It's such a good group. It seems like they're very well connected and a tight knit group. ... Even with only three wins this year, it's not like we were going into games unprepared. Luchi and the staff - I've rarely, if ever, seen a staff work as hard as they did. I bring that up because the players feel that they know that they witnessed the end product of that and how prepared the staff is going into game. It's tough to ask the players about coaching changesm especially knowing that Luchi and staff really worked extremely hard and these players I could tell, even until Luchi's last day, trained every day as hard as they could. We just felt as a group here, that this was the best thing to do - for the organization, for the players in the locker room, for fans. It is a very difficult choice."


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