Earthquakes

Former Stanford star scores winning goal for USA in Gold Cup victory

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USATSI

Former Stanford star scores winning goal for USA in Gold Cup victory

SANTA CLARA -- As the victorious American players bounced so hard the podium shook, medals round their necks, a beaming Bruce Arena in the back raised his arms to the air right along with them as gold confetti began to fall.

The U.S. resurgence is off to an impressive start since Arena returned late last year. Another CONCACAF Gold Cup crown, and now on to more important business: qualifying for next year's World Cup.

Former Stanford star Jordan Morris scored a tiebreaking goal in the 88th minute, and the United States beat Jamaica 2-1 on Wednesday night for its sixth Gold Cup title and first since 2013.

Jozy Altidore's goal on a 28-yard free kick in the 45th minute beat backup goalkeeper Dwayne Miller after Jamaica captain Andre Blake left early with a hand injury.

Je-Vaughn Watson tied the score when he got away from Morris for a 4-yard volley off Kemar Lawrence's 50th-minute corner kick.

Morris, who left nearby Stanford in his junior year, has won the 2015 NCAA title, the 2016 MLS championship with Seattle and now the 2017 Gold Cup. He got the breakthrough goal with a 14-yard right-footed shot after Gyasi Zardes crossed.

"I was nervous. It was my guy that scored on the goal, so I was trying to make up for it any way that I could," Morris said. "Obviously. I take responsibility for that. But luckily I could put one in the back of the net."

Jermaine Taylor tried to clear with a header and the ball was knocked by Clint Dempsey with a leg back to Morris. It was the fifth international goal for the 22-year-old Morris, who tied 16-year-old Canadian Alphonso Davies for the tournament lead with three goals.

"That was like a dagger in the heart," Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore said.

The U.S. extended its unbeaten streak to 14 games (9-0-5) under Arena, who became the first coach to win three Gold Cup titles.

"Bruce brought in a new energy," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "He just gave us a tremendous lift."

U.S. captain Michael Bradley earned the Golden Ball at the tournament's top player.

The Americans had a chance in the 19th minute when Altidore's swerving 30-yard shot was parried by Blake, who dived left and then beat Kellyn Acosta to the rebound at the 6-yard box. Acosta collided with Blake and appeared to kick the keeper's right hand before Jamaica's Damion Lowe cleared. Blake's hand was wrapped but he couldn't continue and was replaced by Miller four minutes later. As Blake left the field, he acknowledged the cheering fans with a wave of his left hand, then later emerged for the medal ceremony with his hand bandaged after receiving seven stitches. Nothing was broken.

"It was a very unfortunate situation. What to say? Very sad situation," Whitmore said.

Altidore put the U.S. ahead with a curling shot past Miller's outstretched right hand into the upper corner of the net just beneath the crossbar, his 39th goal in 108 appearances.

Lawrence, who scored in a 1-0 semifinal win Sunday against Mexico, took another corner kick in the 75th minute moments after Alvas Powell's shot from close range deflected off Graham Zusi - a sequence that had Howard yelling at the defense.

Using a lineup with about half its regular starters - the rest are in preseason with European clubs - the U.S. reached its record 10th final. The Reggae Boyz were a surprising final opponent after they stunned Mexico in a semifinal Sunday to reach the title match for a second straight time.

With 18 of 22 starters from Major League Soccer, this was a rematch of the 2015 Gold Cup semifinal won 2-1 by Jamaica at Atlanta. For the first time since replacing Jurgen Klinsmann in November, Arena kept his lineup unchanged. He inserted the 34-year-old Dempsey in the 55th minute.

Chunks of turf came loose yet again at Levi's Stadium, the $1.2 billion, 3-year-old home of the NFL San Francisco 49ers. The field has been an ongoing issue.

The Americans hope for momentum built during this run as they prepare to resume World Cup qualifying. The U.S faces Costa Rica in a rematch of the Gold Cup semifinal on Sept. 1 at Harrison, New Jersey, and play four days later at Honduras. The hex concludes against Panama on Oct. 6 in Orlando, Florida, and at Trinidad and Tobago four days after.

"We're not worried one bit about World Cup qualifying today. I can promise you that," Bradley said. "This was about a group of guys winning a trophy and that's been the only goal."

Arena already was looking ahead.

"We're a long way from qualifying for a World Cup, and that's the objective, for sure," he said.

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.