Gjertsen Earning Time with San Jose

Joey Gjertsen has moved into the starting lineup and is intent on keeping his spot

The Earthquakes expended a lot of time and energy over the winter
months chasing  international players such as Brazilian forward
Eduardo, Argentinean midfielder Javier Robles and Trinidadian forward
Scott Sealy.

But the newcomer who has made the most impact in
2010 didn’t come from some far-flung address.

At the age of 27
and with five USL seasons under his belt, Joey Gjertsen has finally
arrived in MLS. And the Washington native is making the most of it so
far, coming off the bench at halftime of the Quakes’ season opener and
playing the whole of San Jose’s next two matches, including the U.S.
Open Cup qualifier on Wednesday.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve been
successful at this level yet, but I’m trying to prove myself every
game,” Gjertsen said. “Maybe through two games I’ve done OK, but it’s a
long season.”

Gjertsen hasn’t shown up on the score sheet in
either of the Quakes’ MLS regular-season games, but it was his hustling
run to chase down a soft back pass that caused a breakdown in the
Chicago defense in the 49th minute of San Jose’s 2-1 victory last
Saturday.

That effort forced an ineffective clearance from
charging goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra, which led to San Jose’s Arturo
Alvarez gaining possession in front of an empty net. He put it away for
the Quakes’ first goal of the season.

“He feels the game well,
and you can’t teach that or coach that,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop
said of Gjertsen. “You get him in and he does his thing and he really
feels what’s going on in the game and does it well.”

Although
all three of San Jose’s goalkeepers -- Joe Cannon, Jon Busch and Andrew
Weber -- have played in the USL or its forerunner, the A-League,
Gjertsen is the only Quakes field player to have worked his way up from
the second tier of American and Canadian soccer.

The Tacoma
native signed with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2005 after leaving
Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. He immediately earned a spot
in the Whitecaps’ lineup and, in his second season, took home the USL’s
MVP award after scoring 12 goals for the eventual league champions.

That was when he first came to the attention of Yallop, who was
running the Galaxy and tried, unsuccessfully, to lure Gjertsen to Los
Angeles.

“I think he would have been ready then,” Yallop said.
“I saw him play a good five, six years ago, and he was very similar to
what he is now. So I think he could have made the jump, no problem.

Gjertsen,
however, was happy enough with his situation to bide his time.

“I
was still a young player, the [MLS] reserve league was still around,
and I just didn’t want to get lost in the mix,” Gjertsen said. “They
had big rosters then. I think had I come up, got lost in the 30-man
roster and tried to fight my way in as a young guy, it could have been
bad for me. More importantly, though, I was comfortable where I was at,
and that was probably the reason why I never left.”

Like
dominoes lined up and then knocked over, a series of circumstances fell
into place before Gjertsen began seriously considering an MLS jump.

His contract was up, putting him on the free-agent market. His USL
team, the Montreal Impact, captured the 2009 title, with Gjertsen
starting in all four playoff games and playing a key role in the
championship. He was familiar with Yallop and assistant coaches Mark
Watson (a former teammate of Gjertsen’s on the Whitecaps) and Ian
Russell (a fellow Seattle-area product) and Weber, a teammate in
Montreal for 1 1/2 years.

“I felt like maybe I had accomplished
everything I could in [the USL],” said Gjertsen, who agreed to terms
with the Quakes in January. “I knew some of the players and I thought it
could work out. I could come back to the West Coast, so I was all for
it.”

San Jose was looking for Gjertsen to help replace the void
at right midfield left by losing Shea Salinas to the Philadelphia Union
in expansion draft, and he has played there primarily ever since. His
energy has been unflagging, even as he logged 120 minutes in the U.S.
Open Cup qualifier against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday.

“Coming
in, they said they lost [Salinas] and maybe that was a spot where I
could help them,” Gjertsen said. “I was going to do anything I could to
get that spot. Now that I have it, I’m going to do anything I can to
keep it.”

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for
MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com.
Follow him on Twitter at @sjquakes.