New Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli: 'We will send a message'

New Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli: 'We will send a message'

Little was known, among San Jose Earthquakes fans, about Jesse Fioranelli before the 37-year-old was announced as the club's eighth general manager last week.

On Tuesday at Avaya Stadium, the man who makes his way over from Italy's Serie A, didn't make any player signing guarantees or prognosticate on the number of wins for the team during the 2017 season. He did however, make one prediction.

"I will tell you this much -- in 2017, we will send a message."

What that message is will start to take shape in a couple of the weeks when the Earthquakes begin training camp looking to improve upon a less-than-stellar showing on the pitch in 2016 -- one that had them looking up at all but two teams in the western conference.

And until the first whistle is blown, Earthquakes brass and fans will use the excitement  a new general manager brings to fuel their momentum.

"We were very deliberate about getting this hire right," said Earthquakes President Dave Kaval. "This is a 5-10 year hire. We wanted someone who can set a vision, a style of play and someone who can execute in the global marketplace of soccer."

Fioranelli certainly comes armed with global pedigree, having served time in senior positions on technical staffs and club management roles for several top-flight European clubs and more than six years as a player agent.

Fioranelli was most recently a member of the "Direzione Sportiva", the Sporting Direction unit for Italy's AS Roma since July 2015, where he played an integral role in overseeing "The Roma Way" -- a comprehensive club management program. That is something Kaval hopes Fioranelli can duplicate in San Jose.

"I think that's a great advantage," Kaval said. "My job as the club president is, how do we build a technical side that has a competitive advantage over the other teams in the league? We're going to be in the top half of the league in spending. We have the green light from ownership for that. So, how do we use that money as effectively as possible to define a style of play, get the right players, hit on all our DPs (designated players) -- don't make mistakes there -- retain our young players, build an academy system for success? And I think the only way to do that is with great human capital. And I think Jesse is the right guy for the job."

"The goal is to go onto the field [and] represent a strong identity and a message," Fioranelli said. "That's what is going to be most important. ... Look, you can win a match and you can lose a match. But at the end of the day, only successful teams have an identity.

"There is no a single person here who is more important than the club. Big signings and high profile players will have to fit into the goals we set out as a club."

Currently, the Quakes are a club undergoing a lot of changes that weren't overseen by Fioranelli. And the immediate challenge for the new GM will be assimilating himself into the Earthquakes culture and helping to fill roster holes without the help of prior Major League Soccer experience or intimate knowledge of the club’s immediate on-field goals.

"If I wasn't convinced that this was the right move for me and my family, I wouldn't have taken it," Fioranelli said of that challenge. "I left an important family behind. And being able to join the Quakes gives me enough reasons to be a part of the team. And I believe if I bring this type of excitement across when I meet up with future players, they will understand it. I can tell there were more than enough reasons for me to join the Quakes.

"I don't think the looking of the team will be hugely different," said San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear when talking about the direction of the team on the pitch. "I don't think he's going to have David Bingham playing center forward. So, there's going to be some areas we can definitely agree on. Obviously, looking at the stats from last year ... we need to score more goals. So, in this off season, we're looking to sign more attacking players to help us out. For me, it's all about acceptance. He's here. He's excited. I'm excited as well."

"Alignment (between GM and head coach) is critical," Kaval said. "Dominic is shoulder to shoulder with Jesse and [technical director] Chris (Leitch) in solving the issues we have on the technical side and competing at the highest level. But I do think one critical element that Jesse will bring is a club first mentality. The club exists before any one person. And establishing what that is, getting the fans to believe in that and support that, is the first order of business and I think he'll attack that with a lot of energy."

The Quakes have not had a winning season since 2013 and haven't made a playoff appearance since 2012.

With Fioranelli on staff, Roma finished third in Serie A during the 2015-16 season with a 23-4-11 record, earning a spot in the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League Playoff round. That season, the club scored the most goals (83) and suffered the fewest defeats (4) of any team in Italy's top division. Roma sits in second place in Serie A so far during the 2016-17 season with a 12-4-2 record at the time of his departure from the club.

A heartfelt thank you to former Quakes defender Victor Bernardez


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

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.