Earthquakes

Dempsey hat trick lifts US over Honduras in statement win

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AP

Dempsey hat trick lifts US over Honduras in statement win

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Bruce Arena's return as U.S. coach reignited American confidence, and his players responded with an emphatic rebound in World Cup qualifying.

Clint Dempsey returned from an irregular heartbeat to score his second international hat trick, 18-year-old phenom Christian Pulisic had one goal and set up three others, and the U.S. routed Honduras 6-0 Friday night to get right back in contention for an eighth straight World Cup berth.

Surprise starter Sebastian Lletget got his first international goal in the fifth minute after Pulisic's shot deflected off the goalkeeper, Michael Bradley doubled the lead in the 27th and Dempsey scored off Pulisic's perfectly weighted chip in the 32nd.

Finding room to maneuver in a central midfield role, Pulisic made it 4-0 just 12 seconds into the second half with his fourth international goal, Dempsey rounded the keeper to score following a Pulisic feed in the 49th, and Dempsey got another on a 23-yard free kick in the 54th. With 55 international goals, Dempsey moved within two of Landon Donovan's American record.

In its first competitive match since Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. moved from last to fourth in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, tied at three points with Honduras but ahead on goal difference, Mexico leads with seven points, followed by Costa Rica with six and Panama with four.

The top three nations qualify for next year's tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place nation advances to a playoff. With a victory at Panama on Tuesday, the Americans could move into the top three.

The U.S. had never before won a hexagonal game by more than three goals.

And oh how the American Outlaws and others among the lively home crowd loved every second of this long-awaited showing, chanting "Michael Bradley!" and "Demp-sey! Demp-sey!" through the Bay Area rain and cool March air.

Then, it was "Bruce Arena! Bruce Arena!"

Gloom descended upon the Americans in November when they opened the hexagonal with a 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 wipeout at Costa Rica. The defeats caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Klinsmann, who had coached the Americans since 2011, and bring back Arena, who lead the team from 1998-2006.

Dempsey, 34 and hoping to reach a fourth World Cup, was sidelined from August until this month by an irregular heartbeat and likely was starting only because of injuries to Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris. Tim Howard, the Americans' 38-year-old goalkeeper, got the shutout after returning only two weeks ago from a leg injury sustained in the loss to Mexico.

Geoff Cameron, back from a knee strain that had sidelined him for fourth months, was shifted to right back from central defense because of injuries to others, and Jorge Villafana was inserted on the left.

But there were yet more injuries. Lletget hurt his left ankle on Ever Alvarado's tackle and was replaced in the 18th minute, and defender John Brooks was stretchered off the field, hand over his face, in the 69th due to dehydration.

From the opening whistle, the U.S. played more aggressively than in the latter years of Klinsmann's reign. Arena revamped the midfield, giving a prominent role to Pulisic, who last week became the youngest American to score in the Champions League. He inserted Lletget and Nagbe, who were largely overlooked by Klinsmann last year, on the flanks.

The U.S. went ahead when Jozy Altidore picked up a loose ball and on his second try poked the ball ahead to Pulisic. His left-footed shot that went off goalkeeper Donis Escobar, and Lletget tapped in the ball with his right foot from 2 yards.

Bradley, given his debut by Arena in 2006, doubled the lead when he took a pass from Alejando Bedoya, cut to his left, took four touches and cut the ball back to beat Escobar with one-hopper from about 25 yards.

Showing poise beyond his years, Pulisic created the third goal when he lofted a pass to Dempsey, who allowed the ball of bounce off his right shoulder. Dempsey held off Henry Figueroa and while falling scored with his right foot from 8 yards.

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.