Regardless, Espinoza is a cutback-creating machine, got nine primary assists last season, and routinely makes left backs look silly. If preseason is any indication, he might just start scoring more goals, too.

On the left side is the combination of Cade Cowell and Benji Kikanovic. Last year they combined for 10 non-penalty goals (Benji – 6, Cade – 4). The top goal-scoring winger in MLS in 2022 was Paul Arriola also with 10 goals. So it’s kinda working…? They both could be gone by the end of the season as well given European transfer rumors that persist. Goals Added similarly dislikes both of them. In 2022, Kikanovic was the fourth highest Goals+Assists winger in the league on a per 96 basis, and the higher three players were all Designated Players.

Then comes the attacking midfielders: Jamiro Monteiro, Jackson Yueill, and 17-year-old Niko Tsakiris. Niko is expected to be out a lot for the USMNT run in the U-20 World Cup this season, so Michael Baldisimo, a homegrown from Vancouver acquired through the re-entry draft, is likely to get a lot of time as well. Monteiro is that player that you love to watch and is routinely the best player on the field, but just doesn’t have a lot of numbers to show for it. He has creativity on the ball, but also hustles all over the place and covers a ton of ground. However, his xG+xA numbers are very low for an attacking mid. If the Quakes are going to threaten any higher than the midtable of the West, it will be on the back of a much bigger year for Monteiro, who had a fantastic preseason. Jackson Yueill, who has been overburdened with midfield responsibility in the last two season and has just looked worn out at times, looks much fresher with a very clear attacking responsibility with Carlos Gruezo behind him instead of Eric Remedi. Luchi already seems to have gotten more out of Yueill in terms of his ability to progress the ball again from preseason and the opening game, and that’s very good news for Quakes fans who were beginning to wonder if Captain Jackson should move on.

The formula for the Quakes is simple: Score 50 goals and improve defensively around 30% with some actual defense and better shot-stopping. That will get them into a ninth spot or better easily and accomplish Luchi’s first-year goal of being in the playoffs. There’s a decent chance they can do it, too, given they won’t play Thiago Almada again this season.

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