In a surprising in-season move, the San Jose Earthquakes have parted ways with general manager John Doyle after nine years at the position and contributions to the franchise that date back to 1996.
"We felt it was a time for a fresh approach on the tactical side," said Earthquakes President Dave Kaval. "Our style of play got kind of boring. We want it to be more interesting for the fans. We don’t want to be a team that simply toes the red (playoff) line. We want to be more compelling to watch."
The Quakes are fresh off a three-game stretch where they went 0-2-1 including two matches at Avaya Stadium that netted them just one goal and one point. San Jose currently sits at 7-11-8, three points behind the Portland Timbers for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Earthquakes do have one game in hand on Portland, but Kaval said San Jose’s upper brass felt the time was right to send a statement to the entire organization.
"The performance just wasn’t where it needs to be," Kaval said. "We still have a chance to make the playoffs and currently our play is not up to standard. This move sends a message to the technical side."
Dominic Kinnear will remain as the club’s head coach while Chris Leitch assumes the general manager position on an interim level.
Leitch is currently the Quakes’ technical director and the person credited with the development of San Jose’s academy program that now reaches all levels of soccer prior to MLS including the Premier Development and United Soccer Leagues. Kaval said Leitch is one of the candidates to assume the full-time role of general manager for the club – a position the Quakes hope to fill by the end of the calendar year.
"Chris has a great track record with youth development,” Kaval said. “He has a bright future in soccer. He brings a lot to the table. This is an opportunity for him to audition for the role."
Doyle was named the general manager of the Earthquakes in 2007. He was part of the team that re-established the Quakes after the team's return from a two-year hiatus.
With Doyle as GM, the Quakes made the playoffs two times and captured the Supporters' Shield with the best regular season record in MLS in 2012. They have not returned to that level since.
Doyle’s roots with the franchise go back to 1996. Since then, he’s been a player, assistant coach and television color analyst for the club. In 2005, he was the inaugural member of the San Jose Earthquakes Hall of Fame.
But despite his long-rooted loyalties with the Quakes, the club’s recent failures with landing big-name, high-production Designated Players to help San Jose compete at the higher levels of Major League Soccer had drawn criticism. Kaval said it was one of the reasons the club decided to relieve Doyle of his duties.
"It’s a piece of the puzzle," Kaval said. "We felt like we needed to lay the ground work for future success. And that needs to start now."
"It shows fans that there is going to be accountability. That we won’t be content with simply trifling with the red line."
While there are no immediate candidates outside of Leitch for the general manager position, Kaval said ownership "owes it to the fans to cast a wide net – especially as MLS continues to evolve."
"This is not just a short term decision," Kaval said.
In a statement released by the Quakes, Doyle said “I want to thank the Earthquakes ownership group and Dave Kaval for their support during my time at the Quakes.
"I also want to thank the players, the coaches and front office staff for all their hard work every day to make this organization better. I also want to recognize the great fans in San Jose and around the Bay Area that have always been loyal to this club. I wish the team and the organization the best of luck the rest of this year and into the future. I want to see this club succeed more than anyone."
The Earthquakes have eight more games left in the 2016 season – four at Avaya Stadium and four on the road. The eight games include seven against western conference opponents of which only Seattle sits below San Jose in the standings – by just one point.