Matias Almeyda has spent three offseasons transforming the San Jose Earthquakes into his likeness.

This is the year to prove it works.

The team that opens the Major League Soccer season Friday night at Houston has seven players hand-picked by Almeyda, an Argentinean native who has mined the talent veins he knows best.

If all goes according to plan, the Earthquakes will challenge for the MLS Cup playoffs for the second season in a row. It’s a big ask for San Jose even though seven of the 13 Western Conference teams will reach the postseason.

Some of the usual suspects are favored, including Los Angeles FC, the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders FC and Sporting Kansas City. The Quakes expect to face challenges for the leftover berths from Austin FC, the Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Minnesota United.

Note: A search of MLS predictions from several major soccer outlets showed no analysts picking San Jose to make the playoffs. Many seem to have doubts about the Quakes’ ability to produce sustained success.

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Or put it another way: Is this team any good?

Sometimes, the Earthquakes are maddening to break down with their Indianapolis 500 pace. But they also have a propensity for soul-crushing defensive lapses that led to finishing eighth out of 12 teams in the Western Conference two years running.

Almeyda has acknowledged the risk of his all-out, man-marking style that sometimes has left the Quakes’ defense exposed.

“But that is how I transmit it because that is how I live it,” he has said.

Almeyda, 47, has deeply held convictions about the way to play football.

“I think one tries to instill sporting values in the players,” he has said in Spanish. “First and foremost, I am interested in forming happy groups, and also have them play like amateur players because while they are professionals, they will play with love, with passion, with unity, and respecting the opponents and themselves.”

Almeyda and general manager Jesse Fioranelli bolstered the 2021 roster with three offseason signings of players Almeyda had previously coached.

The biggest of those signings is Javier “Chofis” Lopez, who played for Almedya at Chivas but was cut by the club in November for his involvement in a sexual abuse case focused a then-teammate.

Fioranelli said the Quakes had “thoroughly evaluated” Lopez, 26, before agreeing to a one-year loan deal.

San Jose’s success might hinge on the play of Lopez, an attacking midfielder. The Quakes also added central midfielder Eric Remedi, who played under Almeyda at Argentina’s Banfield and Luciano Abecasis, a defender who Almeyda coached at Buenos Aires’s River Plate.

Remedi, acquired in a trade with Atlanta United FC, is expected to provide cover for Judson, the starting defensive midfielder. Abecasis, 30, gives the backline experience after the Quakes traded right fullback Nick Lima to Austin FC.

The three new players will join Almeyda favorites Cristian Espinoza and Andy Rios of Argentina and Carlos Fierro and Oswaldo Alanis of Chivas.

Players from previous San Jose coaching regimes who have remained on the roster seemingly have grown to accept Almedya’s unorthodox methods.

It starts with all-time MLS scoring leader Chris Wondolowski and budding U.S. star midfielder Jackson Yueill.

Wondolowski, 38, has returned for his farewell season. But if he plays like he did last year fans could be treated to another contract extension for the Quakes’ captain.

Wondolowski is the Earthquakes’ big-name star mostly based on past achievements. And that’s fitting for an Almeyda-inspired roster that relies on team chemistry more than individual glory.

As a defensive midfielder, Almedya represented Argentina in two World Cups and the 1996 Summer Olympics. He played professionally in the Spanish and Italian leagues as well as for the popular River Plate.

The coach expects his teams to play as if set on cruise control for 80 mph. The style demands peak physical conditioning every time out.

Almeyda and Fioranelli also like to build programs from the bottom. They believe in the benefits of a systemwide approach that will feed the senior team.

Striker Cade Cowell, 17, exemplifies the strategy as a potential star. He is expected to get more playing time after making 17 appearances last year in his debut season.

Goalkeeper J.T. Marcinkowski of Alamo is another young talent the Quakes have molded. Marcinkowski, who turns 24 next month, took over the starting job on Sept. 27 for the final 11 games of the season. He most recently played for the U.S. under-23 team that failed to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

One of the Quakes’ few offseason distractions involved their coach, who reportedly is under contract through the 2022 season.

According to reports, Almeyda commanded interest from two MX Liga clubs to return to Mexico as well as the Chilean national team.

Almeyda stayed in San Jose for now.

Will it mean another disjointed season? Or is this the year San Jose ascends to the upper tier of MLS?

The answers might come early with five of the Quakes’ first seven games scheduled for San Jose’s PayPal Park, starting April 24 against FC Dallas. A strong start at home could jumpstart a playoff bid, but missing out on points in San Jose could start the Earthquakes on a negative trajectory quickly.