Earthquakes

Why Quakes' hiring of Stahre is surprising, but not shocking at the same time

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Michael Erichsen/Bildbyran

Why Quakes' hiring of Stahre is surprising, but not shocking at the same time

When the San Jose Earthquakes named Chris Leitch their head coach around the halfway point of last season, the biggest question wasn’t why, it was why not — as in, why not assign him the interim tag most people hired during the middle of a year get?

At the time, general manager Jesse Fioranelli's sans-interim approach was the GM saying that not only was the label not necessary and that Leitch was the in-house solution the Quakes needed to end a playoff drought going on five seasons but also that he was the right person to guide the team into a brighter future. 

And so that vote of confidence, coupled with Leitch guiding the Earthquakes to their first playoff appearance since 2012, plus the lack of an official announcement by the team that a coaching search was underway makes Friday’s hiring of Mikael Stahre a bit eye-popping and provides no clear-cut answer to what happened behind closed doors when the Quakes came back from Vancouver following a brutal exit from the postseason. 

Rumors began swirling midway through the week that Fioranelli had Stahre, the front man over at Sweden’s BK Hacken, in his sights. And there are those people who would argue the writing was on the wall for Leitch given the team’s inconsistent play — especially on the road. But were it not for some ambiguous, less-than-reassuring endorsements of Leitch following the 5-0 playoff loss that left the door open for just about anything, there are others who would say that Friday’s hiring of Stahre was completely out of left field. 

If anything, it appears Fioranelli, who Quakes fans knew very little about when he was hired as the GM back in January, is continuing a precedent that he’ll pull any trigger at any time. 

Whether Fioranelli’s decision to hire the Swedish head coach is the right thing to do is yet to be seen, obviously. Stahre built his name in Sweden, rising from the junior ranks to the front of a first team that last year jumped six spots in the standings. It’s one of many coaching statistics San Jose lists to try and assure fans they’re getting a true soccer mind for the job in Stahre. 

Fioranelli and team President Tom Fox are saying all the right things to welcome Stahre into the fold, mentioning his ability to relate to players — who reportedly gave Stahre glowing endorsements — as a key reason why he was ultimately chosen to lead the Quakes (read between the lines what you will there given the rumored-sour and still-unofficial departures of former Quakes mainstays Simon Dawkins, Cordell Cato and David Bingham once Leitch took over). 

Moreover, Fioranelli reiterated some of the points in the team’s press release during a conference call Friday afternoon. He mentioned that Leitch would stay on as the team’s technical director — the role he had before becoming the head coach and that the club’s decision to relieve him of the head coaching job had nothing to do with where the club was coming from (read: playoffs) but more so where they wanted to go moving forward (read: as of right now, unclear). Fioranelli said the search was extensive and that Stahre was one of three finalists for the job — including one from South America. He again pointed out that Stahre’s values align with those of the club and he’s a man his former players vouch for.

So, at least at first glance, San Jose is doing its best to make pretty and tie a bow around what was at-a-minimum an awkward firing of Dominic Kinnear and hiring of a man in Leitch who did just enough to justify the change but not enough to warrant extending Fioranelli’s experiment any longer. 

Only time will tell exactly what Fioranelli is creating over at Avaya Stadium. 

Quakes announce hiring of new head coach: 'We are an ambitious club'

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MLSSoccer.com

Quakes announce hiring of new head coach: 'We are an ambitious club'

SAN JOSE - The San Jose Earthquakes announced Friday that the club has hired Mikael Stahre (Michael STAR-eh) as head coach. Stahre brings 11 years of head coaching experience in top European leagues to San Jose. Chris Leitch and Alex Covelo, who spent the final four months of the 2017 season as head coach and assistant coach, respectively, will return to their roles as technical director and director of methodology.

"After a thorough evaluation process, we are excited that Mikael will be joining our club," said Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli. "What stood out with Mikael are not only the cups his teams won and his consistency over the past 10+ seasons, but also his ability to identify with our players, our coaching staff and most importantly our goals."

"I would like to take this occasion to thank Chris [Leitch] for his dedication to the club," continued Fioranelli. "We would not be where we are today without the contributions of Chris and Alex [Covelo] on the coaching staff. I look forward to working with him as he resumes his role as technical director. We are a special club with special people."

Stahre, 42, comes to San Jose after one year as the head coach of BK Hacken in the Swedish top-flight Allsvenskan. During his lone season with the club, Stahre led the team to a 14-6-10 record, a +14 goal-differential, the third-fewest goals allowed in the league (28) and a fourth-place finish. Stahre elevated Hacken from 10th place in 2016 with an 11-12-7 record to a top-four finish for the first time since 2012.

"We are very excited to bring Mikael in to lead us forward and build on the momentum of this past season," said Earthquakes President Tom Fox. "We are an ambitious club and believe his extensive experience and track record will bring a strong presence to our locker room and will put us firmly on the path to success."

Stahre, from Stockholm, Sweden, began his coaching career in 2007 with FC Vasby United of the Swedish third-tier. Under his guidance, FC Vasby finished in second place with a 15-5-6 record and the third-best offense in the league, earning promotion to the second-tier Superettan. He remained with the club for one more year, finishing mid-table despite possessing the youngest team in the league, before moving to AIK in 2009.

"I am very proud to be the new head coach of the San Jose Earthquakes and for the opportunity to work with Jesse Fioranelli and the other members of the organization," said Stahre. "I'm going to give everything I have to the Quakes and I am very excited about being a part of the future of the club."

Inheriting a team that had finished in fifth place the year before, Stahre led AIK to a league championship in his first season. The club went 18-5-7 with a league-low 20 goals allowed in 30 games, marking their first Swedish title since 1998. That same year, AIK won the Swedish Cup, comparable to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, with a perfect 5-0 record in single-elimination play.

After winning the double, Stahre had a stint with Panionios in Greece before moving back to Sweden to take charge of IFK Goteborg ahead of the 2012 Allsvenskan season. Stahre again quickly led his side to silverware, with IFK winning the 2012-13 Swedish Cup. In 2013, IFK rose from a mid-table club to third place (16-8-6), ranking among the league-leaders in goals for (49, t-4th) and goals against (31, 3rd). IFK made another jump the following year, finishing second with a 15-4-11 record and a +24 goal-differential. He also gave increased opportunity to youth players such as 18-year-old forward Gustav Engvall and 20-year-old fullback Ludwig Augustinsson. The duo finished No. 1 and No. 2 in Newcomer of the Year voting and have both gone on to represent the Swedish National Team, who are bound for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

After his three successful seasons with IFK, Stahre's next challenge was to take over Dalian Aerbin (Yifang), who had just been relegated from the Chinese Super League to League One. In his first season in China in 2015, Stahre led Dalian Aerbin to a third-place finish with a 17-6-7 record and the league's second-best goal-differential (+24), narrowly missing out on promotion. He remained with the team for half of the 2016 season, exiting after a 10-6-2 start to the campaign, and returning to Sweden to take over Hacken in January of 2017.

In addition to his many years of coaching First Team football, Stahre also has experience at the youth level. He served as head coach of the Hammarby U-19s from 1994-97 and the AIK U-19s from 1998-2005, leading AIK to the junior national championship in 2004.

The assistants on Stahre's coaching staff will be announced at a later date.

San Jose Earthquakes media services

NASL-champion San Francisco Deltas fold after one season

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USATSI

NASL-champion San Francisco Deltas fold after one season

The dream is no more. 

San Francisco Deltas' CEO Brian Andres Helmick ended speculation on Friday when he released a statement announcing the end of the team after one season in the North American Soccer League -- a DII professional league in the USSF pyramid. 

The Deltas are fresh off claming the NASL's championship in front of a sold-out crowd at Kezar Stadium, But even that wasn't enough to save a franchise who admittedly was struggling to stay afloat. 

"We are closing down the San Francisco Deltas," Helmick wrote. "As many of you have said, this journey that started in 2015 has the makings of a movie with character-defining struggles, heroic moments, painful defeats, and overcoming seemingly impossible hurdles all culminating in a dream come true on Sunday, November 12th when the SF Deltas were crowned the national champions after defeating the New York Cosmos — arguably the most storied brand in U.S. Soccer history. I’ll never forget the scene of thousands of fans storming the field. Now that the celebration has come to an end, players and coaches have been released from their contracts. We will not leave any loose ends and everybody will be paid what they’re owed for 2017 — including players, coaches, staff, partners and vendors."

In 32 league games, the Deltas amassed a 14-12-6 record and advanced to the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup tournament where they lost to the San Jose Earthquakes. 

"In hindsight we have not been perfect," Helmick said. "Far from it. We have learned so much from this adventure and we will begin organizing our thoughts and learnings that led to us to make this decision. Our hope is to share them for the benefit of others who are interested in developing the sport here in San Francisco or in other cities. I firmly believe that via transparency and collaboration we can improve the sport we all love."

In response to the Deltas news, the NASL released the following statement: 'In San Francisco, it’s unfortunate that the Deltas’ business plans did not materialize in the way they had hoped. We remain a big believer in the market, as evidenced by the atmosphere and crowd at The Championship Final earlier this month, and we still believe that the city deserves a professional soccer team. We are in active discussions with potential ownership groups and we aim to keep professional soccer in San Francisco in the future."

The Deltas experiment is the latest to test the viability of professional soccer in San Francisco. Last Fall, another group fronted by Zappos.com founder NIck Swimurn -- San Francisco Football Club -- attempted to start a team using AT&T Park as its home stadium as part of the United Soccer League. The project and application was pulled.