Earthquakes

Cal's Alex Morgan leaving NWSL for Europe, aims to be world’s best player

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AP

Cal's Alex Morgan leaving NWSL for Europe, aims to be world’s best player

With the lure of Champions League football proving too strong to resist, United States forward Alex Morgan is joining European champion Lyon in a move she hopes will help her become the world's best player.

Lyon announced on Tuesday that Morgan is arriving from Orlando Pride on a six-month deal, with an option for her to play a further season.

The 27-year-old Morgan wants to make the most of her career as she enters her peak years.

"I hope that this change will help push my game to another level," she said. "I want to be the best player in the United States . the best player in the world."

Morgan has made 120 appearances for the U.S. women's team and scored 73 goals, winning the Olympic gold medal in 2012 and the World Cup last year in Canada.

But she has never sampled European club football's intense rivalries, and this was a chance to good to miss, especially considering three-time European champion Lyon is among the best teams around.

"Training with these incredible athletes each day, and learning a unique style of play, is exactly what I need," Morgan said in a long letter on The Players Tribune website. "I will also be immersed in a soccer culture that I believe is precisely what I need at this point in my career. It has always been a dream of mine to 'live' soccer and to compete in the Champions League."

Lyon is in second place in the league this season, three points behind unbeaten Paris Saint-Germain. A 1-0 defeat to PSG on Saturday was Lyon's first league loss in more than two years.

Morgan will form what looks on paper like a devastating attacking partnership with France striker Eugenie Le Sommer, who has 16 goals in 12 games this season and 186 overall since joining Lyon in 2010.

Morgan explained further on The Players Tribune that she made the decision during "a belated honeymoon that I recently took with my husband, Servando, in Europe." After "a few weeks of deliberation" Morgan said the decision to join Lyon became evident.

"Lyon is a team that's world-renowned for excellence, with a roster that includes many of the greatest players in the world. In fact, Lyon won all three possible titles last season: Champions League, French League and the Coupe de France," she wrote. "They are committed to growing women's soccer and provide the women with first-class facilities and an unparalleled training environment on par with the men's team."

Long-serving Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas has overseen considerable success with both the men's and women's teams.

The men won seven straight French titles from 2002-2008 while the women have won the league 14 times.

"Alex Morgan's arrival demonstrates Lyon's will to invest in the highest level, starting with the women," Aulas wrote in a Tweet.

The women's squad has 26 players, all of them internationals, representing France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Japan, New Zealand and the U.S.

Morgan starts playing next month and will return to play for the Pride after Lyon's season ends in June.

"I'm committed to Orlando. Just as I'm committed 100 percent to the National Team," she said. "Those things won't change, but right now I need to follow my heart."

Morgan and other players from the U.S. national team are allocated to the National Women's Soccer League teams by the U.S. Soccer Federation, which pays their salaries. The players' labor contract expires Dec. 31, leaving either side in position to call for a work stoppage.

Alleging wage discrimination, Morgan and four other U.S. national team players filed a complaint in April with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the USSF.

Her move to club football in Europe will have a short-term effect on the Pride.

"We are obviously disappointed that Alex will miss the beginning of the Pride season but understand her wishes to play in Europe and we look forward to her rejoining her teammates after Lyon's season," said Phil Rawlins, president of Orlando City SC, the MLS club affiliated with the Pride.

"This in no way affects our plans or commitment to growing Orlando Pride and we will continue providing the team the best available players, training resources and staff to become a championship contender in the NWSL and a leader in women's professional soccer."

Morgan is used to playing at the highest level of the game.

At the 2012 Olympics in London, she scored a dramatic winner against Canada in the semifinals. A year earlier, she scored in the 2011 World Cup final, which the U.S. lost to Japan on penalty kicks.

A star in the NWSL, Morgan previously played for Western New York Flash and Portland Thorns. She was named U.S. female soccer athlete of the year in 2012.

Lyon's first league game following the winter break is away to Guingamp on Jan. 15, although she could make her debut in a French Cup game the week before at Evian.

A heartfelt thank you to former Quakes defender Victor Bernardez

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A heartfelt thank you to former Quakes defender Victor Bernardez

This week, the San Jose Earthquakes announced they would not be bringing back Victor Bernardez next year. 

For most people, this news barely registered on their radar, if at all.  For me, it is the end of the line for one of my favorite players, on my favorite team.

Who was Victor Bernardez?  He was an attacking central defender for the Quakes.  When he played, he constantly made you wonder if he was being overly aggressive, or out of control.  My heart would skip a beat when he would dive in on a tackle, and more often than not, he would come away having made an amazing play.

The first thing that stands out physically about Victor is his strength.  He’s like a bull or an angry rhinoceros -- he played fearlessly and with passion.  I constantly underestimated his offensive abilities.  I can’t count how many times it would look like he was just kicking the ball wildly to clear it, and it was actually a long pass in a perfect place for a counter attack to start.  Through some of the lean years, Victor’s long balls started many of the team's best offensive chances.

He was a relentless player who provided me some of my happiest moments as a fan.  I can clearly remember how despondent I was and how happy I ended up being at the 2012 California Classico at Stanford Stadium.  I had organized a trip for my kid’s soccer club and had over 200 people in our group.  For many, it was their first time to an Earthquakes game.  I wanted them to love the Quakes as much as I did.  Steven Lenhart scored an early goal (and did some pull ups on the goal). Then David Beckham scored, Jason Hernandez scored an own goal, and Landon Donovan put Galaxy up 3-1 in the 41st minute after a misplay by the Quakes defense. 

We were sitting in the end zone, pretty close to the Galaxy supporters group, and I was dreading things would get worse for my boys in the black and blue.  Then, in the 44th minute, Big Vic scored his first MLS goal on a swinging redirect off a Marvin Chavez corner kick, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve seen before or since.  It changed the whole outlook of the match.  Chris Wondolowski capped off the comeback with his unforgettable whirling, back-to-the-goal finish for the game winner.

I won’t forget the free-kick goal Victor scored that same year against Chivas where he took about 14 steps before he shot the ball around a 3-man wall and into the corner of the goal.  Nor will I forget the same approach he took when an opponent try to discourage him from a restart after a foul and stood about 3 yards from the ball.  Instead of asking the referee for 10 yards, he ran up and drilled the guy with the ball.  It deflected out of play for a throw-in and Victor had made his point. I don’t remember an opponent ever taking that same tact with him around.

Victor was listed as six-foot-two, but I was fortunate enough to share an elevator with him once.  I’m 5’10” and all I can think is that they measured him while wearing his longest studs on his cleats.  The truth is, while on the field, he played like he was six-foot-two -- and with the ferocity of lion. 

It was pretty clear this season that the club did not have plans for a 36-year-old center to come back in 2018.  In the middle portion of the season, other players found themselves where Victor had been a constant for years on the back line.  One of the things I am most grateful for is that Victor got a chance to be an impactful player on the run to the playoffs.  His passion for the club, and the game, shone bright.  His aggressive play in the September 30th must-win 2-1 victory over Portland showed the team how it needed to play if it was going to make the playoffs.  In spite of having trouble keeping up with speedster attackers, he was able to shore up a defense that ended the season -21 in goal differential, and get them into the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

There are other ways Victor has impacted my life.  He made me care about the country of Honduras, and how their national team is doing.  I openly cheered for a man nicknamed “Muma”.  I have no idea what it means, but it just sounds cool and makes me feel closer to him, even though our paths have rarely crossed.  He showed me how to be ready for when my number is called after feeling left out for a while.  He exemplified so many of the great things about the game and were a part of my growing love for the sport.  Most importantly, he showed me what can happen if a person puts their heart and soul into their craft, and complements it with humility, humor, and love.

Victor, I wish you well in whatever lies ahead.  Thank you for all the wonderful memories you provided me and my family as we got to watch you ply your trade.

Joe Washington is the senior coordinating producer for NBC Sports Bay Area/California  -- and a lifelong Quakes fan 

Why Quakes' hiring of Stahre is surprising, but not shocking at the same time

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Michael Erichsen/Bildbyran

Why Quakes' hiring of Stahre is surprising, but not shocking at the same time

When the San Jose Earthquakes named Chris Leitch their head coach around the halfway point of last season, the biggest question wasn’t why, it was why not — as in, why not assign him the interim tag most people hired during the middle of a year get?

At the time, general manager Jesse Fioranelli's sans-interim approach was the GM saying that not only was the label not necessary and that Leitch was the in-house solution the Quakes needed to end a playoff drought going on five seasons but also that he was the right person to guide the team into a brighter future. 

And so that vote of confidence, coupled with Leitch guiding the Earthquakes to their first playoff appearance since 2012, plus the lack of an official announcement by the team that a coaching search was underway makes Friday’s hiring of Mikael Stahre a bit eye-popping and provides no clear-cut answer to what happened behind closed doors when the Quakes came back from Vancouver following a brutal exit from the postseason. 

Rumors began swirling midway through the week that Fioranelli had Stahre, the front man over at Sweden’s BK Hacken, in his sights. And there are those people who would argue the writing was on the wall for Leitch given the team’s inconsistent play — especially on the road. But were it not for some ambiguous, less-than-reassuring endorsements of Leitch following the 5-0 playoff loss that left the door open for just about anything, there are others who would say that Friday’s hiring of Stahre was completely out of left field. 

If anything, it appears Fioranelli, who Quakes fans knew very little about when he was hired as the GM back in January, is continuing a precedent that he’ll pull any trigger at any time. 

Whether Fioranelli’s decision to hire the Swedish head coach is the right thing to do is yet to be seen, obviously. Stahre built his name in Sweden, rising from the junior ranks to the front of a first team that last year jumped six spots in the standings. It’s one of many coaching statistics San Jose lists to try and assure fans they’re getting a true soccer mind for the job in Stahre. 

Fioranelli and team President Tom Fox are saying all the right things to welcome Stahre into the fold, mentioning his ability to relate to players — who reportedly gave Stahre glowing endorsements — as a key reason why he was ultimately chosen to lead the Quakes (read between the lines what you will there given the rumored-sour and still-unofficial departures of former Quakes mainstays Simon Dawkins, Cordell Cato and David Bingham once Leitch took over). 

Moreover, Fioranelli reiterated some of the points in the team’s press release during a conference call Friday afternoon. He mentioned that Leitch would stay on as the team’s technical director — the role he had before becoming the head coach and that the club’s decision to relieve him of the head coaching job had nothing to do with where the club was coming from (read: playoffs) but more so where they wanted to go moving forward (read: as of right now, unclear). Fioranelli said the search was extensive and that Stahre was one of three finalists for the job — including one from South America. He again pointed out that Stahre’s values align with those of the club and he’s a man his former players vouch for.

So, at least at first glance, San Jose is doing its best to make pretty and tie a bow around what was at-a-minimum an awkward firing of Dominic Kinnear and hiring of a man in Leitch who did just enough to justify the change but not enough to warrant extending Fioranelli’s experiment any longer. 

Only time will tell exactly what Fioranelli is creating over at Avaya Stadium.