Earthquakes

Quakes look to snap winless streak vs. Timbers

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Quakes look to snap winless streak vs. Timbers

Aug. 5, 2011PORTLAND TIMBERS (7-4-10) vs.
EARTHQUAKES (5-9-8)7:30 p.m. on CSN Plus
Nicholas RosanoCSNBayArea.com

SANTA CLARA The statistics paint an accurate picture ofthe Earthquakes less than enviable situation -- in nine prior games, the teamhas been shut out seven times, managed four goals, and failed to collect asingle win. Hardly the recipe for a playoff run come October, but as anyonewhos been around MLS will tell you, it can take a single win to turn thingsaround. The Earthquakes will certainly be banking on that notion asthey play host to the visiting Portland Timbers on Saturday evening. A win, andthe team leapfrogs not only the Timbers, but perhaps other teams competing fora wild card berth come the end of the regular season in October. A loss,though, especially with a combination of unfavorable results, could sink theteams playoff chances entirely. Come this Saturday, if we get a good home win, I think thatsets it up for the rest of the year, coach Frank Yallop said. If we tie orlose, I think itll be a struggle. We can still do it, but this is an importantgame for us. As it stands, the current signs point to an eventualstruggle as the Earthquakes try and scratch their way into one of the leaguesfour wild card berths. Between the Timbers decent form, the Earthquakes lackthereof and the continued absence of two key offensive contributors, theEarthquakes will need to come up with something new if they want to getanything from this vital match. To start, as the Earthquakes watched their upcomingopponents closely on Wednesday night, they saw a team tear apart the LosAngeles Galaxy -- the best team in the league as far as the standings areconcerned --by a comfortable 3-0 score, even without their All-Star midfielderand captain, Jack Jewsbury. I did see their game last night and that was a lot of funto watch, I thought they played really well, Earthquakes defender JasonHernandez said. We know they have a lot of options going forward, and theyrepretty direct and pretty dangerous and I think its going to be a tough taskfor us as a unit to make sure were keeping track of their major weapons forthe entire 90 minutes. Not only did the Timbers dismantle the Galaxys defense, butalso their own defense -- not by any means the tightest in the league --managed to shut out a Galaxy lineup rife with attacking talent, featuring thelikes of Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Juan Pablo Angel. Considering Steven Lenhart (granted an indefinite familyleave of absence) and Simon Dawkins (hamstring injury) -- San Joses two keyoffensive contributors aside from Chris Wondolowski -- will miss the Portlandshowdown, the Earthquakes might have to take a fresh look at their attack afterbeing shut out in their previous two games by D.C. United and Real Salt Lake.Yallop admitted that the loss of those two players, both added to the rosterprior to the start of the season, was a big factor in the teams positive runof results earlier in the year. I think Simon gives us that little bit of guile, little bitof unpredictable play, quickness, sharpness, Yallop said. Not that we rely onone person, but I think that between him and Lenhart, we had some forcefulnessand creativeness underneath. I think at the moment we probably dont haveeither. Despite the loss of two players that have done a lot to setup Wondolowksis eight goals and garnered nine goals between them this season,the team stressed the importance of adopting a fresh offensive approach inorder to find their scoring touch. To be honest, I think we just need to take a couple morechances, Wondolowski said. I feel trying to not always look for that killerball, but maybe serve some balls in the box, have some guys make more runs inthe box. I think that well continue to do that and I think that when we getour chances well finish them and thats going to be the key. Joining Wondolowski up top will likely be Scott Sealy, a manthe Earthquakes could really use a goal from. Since joining the Earthquakes in2010, the Trinidadian forward has managed just two assists and not a singlegoal. He will be helped by the return of Bobby Convey to a more familiar leftwing position and Joey Gjertsen lining up on the right wing, ensuring astarting eleven featuring players in their natural positions -- not always agiven considering Yallops frequent lineup changes. In a similar vein, the Earthquakes might just be able tomatch the Timbers defense this time around -- for the first time in nearly amonth, Yallop will be able to field what most reckon is his first-choicedefensive unit. Jason Hernandez and Steven Beitashour are set to return frominjury, while Bobby Burling will certainly be featured after a one-gamesuspension, and Ramiro Corrales will move to left back after deputizing as anemergency center back in last Saturdays 2-0 loss to D.C. United. I think a lot can be said for team chemistry and defendingas a unit, Hernandez said. I think having three familiar faces is going tomake a lot of difference and hopefully we can pick up where we left off inbeing able to grind out some results. Backing up that claim is the fact that only two of theEarthquakes eight losses this season have come when at least three ofHernandez, Burling, Beitashour and Corrales have been on the field. In one ofthose, a 2-0 setback at Chivas USA,both goals came in the second half, after Beitashour left the game injured. While the statistics can certainly paint a picture of thepast, whether good or bad, the game Saturday wont be about breaking a certaintrend, but rather about starting a new one. As Hernandez told reporters, Hopefully Saturday night willbe the first step towards a good run to try and finish the seasonstrong.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

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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.