Earthquakes

Defense key to Quakes early success

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Defense key to Quakes early success

Joe WashingtonCSNBayArea.com
Four matches into the 2012 season and the San JoseEarthquakes have surrendered only one goal; and that off a penalty kick. They are proving to themselves and the restof the league they are going to be a factor in the quest for the 2012 MLSCup. Each year there is turnover on theroster, but the moves made this off season as a whole are the best managementhas made since the reformation of the team, especially on the defensive side ofthings.Position by position, Frank Yallop has more quality playersto choose from. The Quakes now haveflexibility and options based on their opponents strengths which they have notshown in previous years. With thesupport of an aggressive combination of midfielders, it took most of the nightfor the explosive Seattleside to generate much offensively and the Quakes sent home about 40,000 Sounderfans unhappy.San Josehas turned a massive weakness into one of its strengths. Through a series ofmoves and non-moves, management has put together a beautiful blend of developedyoung talent and veteran experience. Victor Bernardez, the Honduran national team member, hasbeen everything the Quakes said he would be and more. His tenacious attitude, size, strength, andfearlessness on the back line has virtually eliminated the seemingly weeklyheartbreaks and bouts of bad luck that cursed the teams central defense lastseason. He is a closer defensively and is the main reason why the Quakes haveheld on to both of their 1-0 victories.Equally impressive has been the growth of a couple of formermid-fielders on the back line, Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour. Morrow has been an Earthquake for a whilebiding his time on the reserve unit. Theleft footer has the speed to track down any striker in the MLS and hasdeveloped his decision playing in reserve matches over the years to the pointnow where he has the full confidence of his teammates in either a central orleft side defender. He has good ballskills which also helps the Quakes build their attack from the back. Morrowwaited a long time to get a chance to play and has not faltered in any of hischances. He has been truly impressive.Steven Beitashour is in his third season with the Quakes andthe San Josenative has made the right back position his own. He has become a lock down defender on theright side, consistently making good decisions on when to pressure and how tojump the passing lanes, especially on long balls. His speed and ball skills have helped createmany scoring opportunities for the Quakes as well. In 2011, he led the team with 7 assists in 22games. The end-zone angle of his run in the Toronto on March 24th, whichcreated Shea Salinas goal in the 56th minute, perfectly displayedhis speed, sense of timing, elusiveness and touch with the ball. Waiting in the wings for his opportunity to crack the lineup is Ike Opara who has spent a lot of the early season busy with the USNational U23 team. Over the course ofthe long season, the Quakes could present the leagues most athletic back fourif Opara comes in to the middle with Bernardez and Morrow plays left whileBeitashour anchors down the right side.It would be difficult for any club to match that groups ball skills orspeed or athleticism.Finally, there are the two veterans who are extremelyimportant to this equation. RamiroCorrales started the first 4 games as the left back, suffered an injury in the Seattle game. If the injury is not serious, he will continueto be a solid option for coach Yallop.Jason Hernandez took his place after the injury. Hernandez has started 99 matches for theQuakes and played in his 100th match for Frank Yallop when he wentin for Corrales. He is a smart and solidalternative at central defender and should one of the others need to sit forany reason, he will do an admirable job.The Quakes turn around from a truly miserable campaign in2011 is built on a firm defensive foundation as sturdy as Victor Bernardez onthe ball. Too many times last year San Jose gave up lategoals that cost them points in the standings.To a man, most of the team feels like last years squad would havesquandered the 1-0 victories they have this year and they are thrilled with thenew pieces that are preserving their hard work.

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.