Earthquakes

Quakes' Baca looks to make starting spot his own

501821.jpg

Quakes' Baca looks to make starting spot his own

Sept. 9, 2011MLSSCOREBOARD EARTHQUAKESPAGE
Nick Rosano
CSNBayArea.com

SANTA CLARA, Calif. Rafael Baca has been more than patient waiting for his turn with the Earthquakes. After training with the team since mid-February, the former Loyola Marymount midfielder had to wait until July 8 to sign with the team. Even then, he had to wait over another month to get a chance to play in his preferred position, first being utilized as a winger in a series of substitute appearances interspersed with one start in his teams 4-0 loss to Real Salt Lake. Recently, though, head coach Frank Yallop has turned to the versatile Mexican-born midfielder as the teams lineup suffered through a spate of injuries and suspensions, and the coach likes what he sees. He has great energy, I think hes using the ball well, been an excellent teammates, I think hes worked very hard for the team, hes been good, Yallop said of Bacas contributions to the team. I think him and Ramiro Corrales, the two of them struck up a nice partnership real quickly and played some good stuff. Since some shaky opening minutes in his first start centrally, alongside Corrales in the Earthquakes 2-0 loss to Los Angeles on Aug. 20, Baca has stepped up alongside the veteran Corrales nominally a left back to help the team improve its possession. For Baca the switch to a more central position is a welcome one. I think its better, I think its a position that I like playing more, said Baca, of the switch. I feel more comfortable there, I like to be on the ball more, so I think that position you have to be more active and you get more of ball, more touches on the ball. While Baca has been comfortable playing alongside Corrales, the injury and suspension situation has necessitated yet another change in the center of the park. While Baca will remain in the center, a hamstring injury to Justin Morrow and the suspension of Bobby Convey for yellow card accumulation requires Yallop to move Corrales back to his left back position. The Earthquakes have a number of options to fill the spot left by Corrales, but with Khari Stephenson likely to continue playing up front and Brad Ring recovering from a shoulder injury, Sam Cronin will likely be the player Yallop turns to. Despite the fact that Bacas path to a starting spot has been largely influenced by injuries, Yallop insists that Baca has earned the right to continue playing in the first team thanks to his positive performances against Los Angeles and in the teams 1-1 draw with Toronto FC. Right now were trying to win every game we can, so you dont tend to just throw guys in, Yallop said, indicating he was not simply just testing out Baca and Morrow, who has also enjoyed a run as a starter. Theyve been given their chance and I think theyve done fantastic, both of them. However, Baca is not just content with playing to fill in and keep starting for the rest of 2011, he is keen continue improving so as to make the starting spot his own in 2012. Yeah, I think besides locking it down, I think theres always room to improve, little things that you have to work on as a rookie, Baca said of his desire to make the position his own, and credited his teammates with helping him. I think with the type of player that we have, I get a lot of help from them, a lot of advice, so I think its good. In the teams upcoming showdown with the Chicago, where any result other than a win would likely extinguish the teams already extremely slim playoff hopes, Baca knows the team must be more careful with its possession, and believes he can help. I think just in the final third of the field, make sure we connect those passes. I think thats something weve been lacking the last few games, said Baca, when asked about what the team can do to be more incisive. In the last third we make the wrong pass or make the wrong decision. Looking at his individual game, Baca acknowledged the need to rely more on his attacking instincts, saying, I think I need to just try to go forward more, try to be more offensive, create more attack. Thats one of those things that me as a player has to improve and hopefully I can do it on Saturday against Chicago.For more Earthquakes, MLS and world soccer musings, you can follow Nick Rosano on Twitter: @nicholasrosano

A heartfelt thank you to former Quakes defender Victor Bernardez

bernardez-1-usatsi.jpg

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

stahre2.jpg
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.