SJ's Convey looks to discover his groove

Ex-U.S. national-teamer eyeing rebound season back in MLS

When Bobby Convey arrived back in the United States last year, joining the San Jose Earthquakes after spending almost five years playing in England for Reading FC, he had to not only find a new place to live off the field. He had to make himself a new home on the pitch as well.

Convey joined an Earthquakes team that already had a strong presence on the left wing in the form of British import Darren Huckerby, who had tied for the team’s goal-scoring lead in 2008 despite arriving halfway into the schedule.

So Convey bounced all over coach Frank Yallop’s lineup sheet, sometimes bumping Huckerby up top, sometimes playing forward, sometimes wrong-footing it on the right wing and finally settling in at left back -- which he hadn’t played in six years -- after injuries decimated the Earthquakes’ ranks of defenders.

The results were less impressive than what both sides were hoping for. Convey notched only one goal and two assists despite playing the third-most minutes of anyone on the team, numbers that didn’t live up to his high-priced expectations.

On top of that, the Quakes stumbled to a 1-8-2 start before Convey had even settled in, leading some fans to wonder what Convey was doing to earn all that cash.

“I played five different positions," he told MLSsoccer.com. "I know coming in, it’s always unlimited expectations when you make so much money. I came in only two weeks before the season, so it was a difficult transition. I was still moving my stuff from England during the first week of the season. It’s kind of hard to focus on here and not even have a house.”

Convey should have much less trouble on that score this season. Although Yallop pointed out that he has other options on the left wing -- most notably Arturo Alvarez and Joey Gjertsen -- he acknowledged that Convey is “way more comfortable” roaming near the sidelines.

“I think it’s easier on Frank, just in a sense now everyone this year know where they’re going to play,” Convey said. “Everyone’s playing in their natural position. I think that is the reason why we’ve done extremely well in preseason so far. I know it’s preseason, and everyone says it doesn’t mean anything, but I think that’s where your team comes together, and we have come together.”

Quakes general manager John Doyle said told MLSsoccer.com he thought Convey was unfairly tagged with the label with of “team savior” after coming back across the Atlantic.

“Because he played in England, everybody’s saying, ‘Oh, he’s going to come here and destroy the MLS.’ Well, it’s not that easy,” Doyle said. “The MLS is pretty good. We played two games [against English Premier League teams during a recent trip] over there -- there were probably six players that we played against that made more money than my whole salary cap, and we were successful. Because of the money and that the [EPL] is held in such high regard, it’s an unfair amount of pressure put on him.”

Ryan Johnson, the Earthquakes’ leading scorer in 2009, said he’s getting more comfortable with Convey’s service from the left wing, something that should help what has been one of the league’s weaker offenses. San Jose tied for 10th in MLS with 36 goals last season, but they were only four goals clear of 14th.

“It’s better for the team because we know what to expect,” Johnson said. “We don’t have to worry about different personnel in there, because Bobby and Huckerby did play totally different kinds of soccer. I’m used to Bobby playing the left side, so I know where he wants me to be. When he swings the ball in, I know where it’s going to go. Little things like that, those are partnerships you build up over experience.”