SAN JOSE -- There was a lot of confusion coming out of San Jose on Sunday afternoon when the Earthquakes announced they had fired Dominic Kinnear midway through his third season with the club.
On Monday, new general manager Jesse Fioranelli did his best to stabilize a shaky situation.
“In the last two, three months, I matured a gut feeling as to where we stand as a club,” Fioranelli said about the catalyst for his decision. “When I realized that, heading into the next season, we would not renew with Dominic Kinnear, I said to myself that we wouldn’t want to hold onto this for the remainder of the season — especially also because I have a personal relationship that I very much appreciated in Dominic. And the respect that I have in this relationship would not have allowed me to want to go for another three months knowing that we would have parted ways at the end of the season.”
The timing of Kinnear’s departure was undoubtedly the most confusing part of Sunday’s announcement. The Quakes, who sit fifth in the Western Conference standings, had just beaten Real Salt Lake 2-1 on Saturday night. According to reports, Kinnear was summoned by Fioranelli on Sunday morning and shortly thereafter, he was informed that he would no longer be the head coach. Fioranelli said that it's a decision he had pondered for a couple of months and made the week before. So, despite the win and possible perception, the new GM knew he had to follow through with his decision with conviction.
“I think this team can achieve more,” Fioranelli said. “I think that we have still a story to tell as to the young players we have on the roster. I believe we have a story to tell as to how we want to present ourselves when we play away. I believe that we will want to mature a certainty as to our identity on the field.”
It’s a lack of identity that helped Fioranelli mature the idea of making the switch 17 matches into an MLS season that, if it ended today, would have San Jose in the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
According to Quakes midfielder Shea Salinas, the decision came as a shock to players. The midfielder added that Kinnear addressed the locker room Monday morning.
Kinnear started his second stint as head coach of the Earthquakes in 2015 and led San Jose to a 27-31-27 record in that time. Including his first term as head coach with San Jose in 2004 and 2005, his all-time record with the Quakes is 54-45-48. Kinnear led San Jose to the Supporters' Shield in 2005 and helped the Quakes break in Avaya Stadium in 2015, improving the club's point total by 17 in his first year over the previous season.
Taking over for Kinnear is first-time head coach Chris Leitch, who after retiring from professional soccer in 2011, has worn many hats for the Quakes since joining the organization in 2012. Before being named the head coach, he was in charge of the Earthquakes’ youth academy system, was the club’s technical director and even its interim general manager after the firing of John Doyle.
“Chris Leitch is not just the bridge. He is part of the foundation of this club,” Fioranelli said. “For that reason, we did not want someone to come from abroad and take over this team We wanted someone that cares, someone that knows the players, knows the team to take on this important next chapter. He’s absolutely equipped to take on this challenge.
“All I can tell you is, the moment that I confronted Chris (with the opportunity to be the new head coach) he did not hesitate a moment. And he had not been waiting for this either. I can just tell you, when you are working day-in and day-out on several different important areas, you’ll grow a certainty as to how you will see the game, how you would like to develop the game, how you would like to see the players confront situations on the field, how you’d want to communicate.”
The learning curve will come steep and quick for Leitch. The Quakes are not only battling for a spot in the playoffs, but they’re in a middle of stretch has has them playing three games in the next eight days — a U.S. Open Cup bout with reigning MLS champion Seattle, a Stanford Cali Clasico battle with longtime rival L.A. and then a cross country trip to Atlanta.