Wondolowski leads Quakes past Revolution


Wondolowski leads Quakes past Revolution

The Earthquakes may be out of playoff contention, but Chris Wondolowski is making sure his team doesnt go unnoticed. The Danville native scored his 13th and 14th goals of the season in the Earthquakes 2-1 road win against the New England Revolution to move into a tie for first place in his quest to capture a second straight the MLS Golden Boot, awarded to the leagues top scorer. Hopefully I can pull it out, Wondolowski said of his chase for the Goldent Boot. I know Dwayne (De Rosario) still has a bunch of games left, Thierry (Henry) also has, I think Im going to have to do some work in the next two games, but its just nice to get a win. Wondolowski is tied with New Yorks French star Thierry Henry and former Earthquake Dwayne De Rosario at the top of the MLS scoring charts. However, De Rosario is the clear favorite to claim the title by virtue of the fact that his D.C. United team plays twice as many games as San Jose and New York (though De Rosario is unlikely to play at least one). Furthermore, any tie would be broken by the number of assists accrued, and De Rosario comfortably leads that category with 12, compared to Henrys four and Wondolowskis three.

Backing Wondolowskis effort against New England were assists from Sam Cronin, and surprisingly enough, rookie goalkeeper David Bingham, making his MLS debut. Bingham set up the first goal with a booming ball up field, not unlike the goal he scored in an exhibition match earlier this season. They didnt know I could put it over the top, Bingham said. Wondo was in and he took a phenomenal touch and just did the rest. Indeed, Wondolowski took the ball down over his shoulder with the softest of touches and finished from a tight angle to open the scoring in the eighth minute. However, the Earthquakes didnt have the easiest of times following the goal, often finding themselves starved of chances. Wondolowski had a long-range effort sail just wide less than 10 minutes after his opener, but other than that, the team was unable to test Bobby Shuttleworth in the first half. It wasnt as dominant tonight as it has been in other games, but I thought the football we played was quite nice at times in a tough place to come, Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop said. (New England) is a tough place to come: theyre good. It looked like the same old story would unfold, as the Earthquakes were unable to corral a free kick played into the box by Revolution midfielder Chris Tierney. After taking a couple deflections, Revolution forward Milton Caraglio looped a header onto the cross bar, which Benny Feilhaber was able to volley home in midair. The goal looked to be another setback for a team that has had a notoriously difficult time holding onto a lead in 2011. It was the 13th time the Earthquakes had given away a lead and it looked set to extend the teams record when scoring first to an unenviable 5-3-6. Wondolowski and his teammates had other ideas, though, and in the 82nd minute, the Earthquakes had their winner. We go up. We get scored on - which has happened a lot to us - and then we come back and get the winner, Yallop said. I was very happy with that type of spirit tonight from our guys. Simon Dawkins moved into a slightly more central position played a weighted ball right into the path of Sam Cronin, who served up a chipped cross to the far post. Wondolowski came crashing in ahead of the New England defenders to tally his 14th goal of the season. Great movement, good ball, great finish, Yallop said of the goal. All of the things we ask them to do. Its easier on paper, but actually doing them in a physical game is the part that the players are doing. While Wondolowskis pursuit of another scoring title will take most of the headlines, the forward was more than happy to praise his teammates for their work in setting up the goal. Simon (Dawkins) connected a great pass to Sam (Cronin) and Sam just put it on a platter for me, so thats a great goal, Wondolowski explained. Didnt have a lot of room, but I wasnt that far out so just the main part was getting on top of it and making sure I put it over. For his part, Yallop was especially pleased that after plenty of hard work and tough breaks, the team had come away with a win, just its second since June and its third away win in 16 attempts to date. I think performance-wise weve played pretty well for the last three or four months, to be honest, just without getting those points, he said. Its nice to finally have something to show for a decent away performance.Finally, Yallop maintained that his star forward could very well be the one to claim the scoring title, and with four goals from his last three games it would be difficult to argue Wondolowski doesnt have a shot. Hes top goal scorer again, right now as we speak, Yallop said. It looks like hes probably got a couple more before the end of the season, hopefully. For more Earthquakes, MLS and world soccer chatter, you can follow Nick Rosano on Twitter: @nicholasrosano

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.