SAN JOSE, Calif. — After missing out on the Alan Pulido sweepstakes, the San Jose Earthquakes made a significant move to bolster their offense by completing the permanent transfer of midfielder Cristian Espinoza.
Espinoza, who played the entire 2019 season for the Quakes on loan from Villarreal CF, was acquired from the La Liga side for a club-record transfer fee. The 24-year-old Argentine subsequently signed a multi-year Designated Player contract with San Jose, terms of which were not released by the club.
“Cristian was a very important player for us this year,” Earthquakes head coach Matias Almeyda said in a statement. “His qualities are not easily replicated and I’m happy he will continue with us.”
Espinoza had an immediate impact for the Earthquakes as a dynamic winger on the right side of the Quakes formation. His ability on the ball demanded defensive attention, and his speed afforded him plenty of space in the attacking third. Espinoza finished his debut MLS season with 2 goals and 13 assists, earning team honors as Offensive Player of the Year.
Despite Espinoza’s impressive numbers, the Earthquakes missed out on the MLS Cup playoffs, losing to the Portland Timbers on the last day of the season to seal their fate. Still, it was clear that he was an important off-season target for Almeyda and general manager Jesse Fioranelli to bring back to San Jose.
“We’re incredibly excited to make Cristian Espinoza a centerpiece of our team moving forward,” Fioranelli said in a statement. “He embraces the spirit of serving his teammates like few do whether it be in front of goal or when in need of support. He had a tremendous impact on our club as well as our fans in 2019 and made it clear throughout our talks with Villarreal that he wanted to play for San Jose and San Jose only.”
Espinoza becomes the Quakes second Designated Player for 2020, joining fellow midfielder Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili in that role. Chris Wondolowski, who signed a new one-year contract earlier this off-season, will not count as a DP next year, so the Earthquakes still have the opportunity to sign one more player at that level. And now that Pulido, who was heavily rumored to be moving to the Quakes following his successful Liga MX season with CD Guadalajara but ultimately joined with Sporting KC, is off the market, San Jose can turn its attention elsewhere for its next big signing.
The Earthquakes preseason will begin in January, and the team’s 2020 season opener is scheduled for February 29 at Avaya Stadium against MLS Cup runners-up Toronto FC. And with Espinoza back in black and blue, the Quakes will be looking to push their fortunes forward.