Earthquakes

Quakes' Urena scores brace to lead Costa Rica past USMNT in critical WC qualifier

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USATSI

Quakes' Urena scores brace to lead Costa Rica past USMNT in critical WC qualifier

BOX SCORE

HARRISON, N.J.  — The United States put its hopes of an eighth straight World Cup berth in peril, giving up a pair of goals to Marco Urena in a 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica on Friday night that brought the Americans' resurgence under coach Bruce Arena to a crashing thud.

Urena spun around defender Tim Ream, then caught Tim Howard leaning and beat the goalkeeper to the far post in the 31st minute. Urena, the lone forward in a 4-5-1 formation, doubled the lead in the 82nd with a shot from 18 yards after David Guzman intercepted a poor pass by Geoff Cameron.

"Clearly, walking away tonight without any points is disappointing, very disappointing," Arena said. "We obviously didn't play well tonight, didn't make any plays that mattered."

The Americans have lost two home games in a World Cup cycle for the first time since 1957 and likely will need points on the road to reach next year's tournament in Russia.

It was just their third home loss in qualifying since 1985 — and came 16 years to the day the U.S. and Arena lost 3-2 to Honduras at Washington's RFK Stadium.

With three games left in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, the United States was clinging to third place — the last automatic berth — and results later Friday could drop the U.S. down the standings.

The Americans play at Honduras on Tuesday night, then close the hexagonal next month at home against Panama and at Trinidad and Tobago. American forward Jozy Altidore is suspended for Tuesday's game after an 80th minute yellow card for pushing Johan Venegas.

"This group is strong and ready for this challenge," U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said.

Christian Pulisic, the Americans' emerging 18-year-old star, had the best U.S. scoring chance in the 67th minute but was denied by goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who batted the ball with his right hand off his right foot, and it was cleared to safety. Navas then made a sliding stop on Jozy Altidore just before Urena's second goal.

Many Costa Rican fans were in the crowd of 26,500 at Red Bull Arena for the first World Cup qualifier in the New York area, avoided in the past by the U.S. Soccer Federation as it sought pro-American crowds.

Arena repeatedly hectored Panamanian referee John Pitti, who did not call penalty kicks when Altidore was pushed to the ground in the first half and Clint Dempsey was knocked down in the second.

Desperate for a goal, Arena finished the match with four forwards after inserting Dempsey in the 65th minute and Jordan Morris in the 84th.

Mexico and Costa Rica lead the standings with 14 points each, followed by the U.S. with eighth, Panama with seven, Honduras with five and Trinidad with three.

In later games, Honduras was at Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico hosted Panama.

"Right now Mexico and Costa Rica ... probably qualified," Area said. "It's going to be a battle amongst the remaining four teams."

While the top three teams qualify, the fourth-place finisher advanced to a playoff against Asia's No. 5 team.

The U.S. opened the final round with a 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 rout at Costa Rica, causing the USSF to fire coach Jurgen Klinsmann and bring back Arena, the Americans' coach from 1998-2006. The U.S. had been 9-0-5 under Arena, winning home qualifiers against Honduras and Trinidad and gaining draws at Panama and Mexico.

Costa Rica went ahead after Howard cleared the ball to past midfield and the Ticos won possession. With Ream and Cameron split wide, Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz played a through pass to Urena.

Urena took several touches to get around Ream and from a wide angle, spotted Howard committing to his left to defend his near post. Urena slotted the ball to the far post, past the goalkeeper's outstretched right arm.

Ream, taking over from injured John Brooks, was paired with Cameron in central defense for the first time. Just before the goal, Arena slapped his arms in disgust when Ream, who played for New York at Red Bull Arena in 2010-11, played the ball back to Howard rather than advance it upfield.

Cameron's gaffe led to Urena's 13th goal in 56 international appearances.

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.