Playoffs in Profile: Geovanni in full force for Earthquakes

Brazilian DP's arrival coincided with San Jose's run to playoffs

San Jose, like every good California city, is blessed with gorgeous springs, sweltering summers, relaxing falls and ephemeral winters.

So when André Luiz, the San Jose Earthquakes injured midfielder talked to his old friend Geovanni about joining the team during the summer, he used the pleasant weather and the proximity to the beaches—a must for every Brazilian—as the main point in his sales pitch.

“André said, ‘Geovanni, you’ll adapt well to the league. Life is good here—the sun, the weather, the city. He said everything was good,” Geovanni told MLSsoccer.com shortly after his official presentation on Aug. 20.

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Geovanni had just spent two seasons with English club Hull City. Needless to say, England’s famously rainy weather is far from the constant beach weather the 30-year-old had been accustomed to in South America.

“You always have to go where [you] can be happy,” Geovanni said.

Now, two-and-a-half months into his American foray, the attacking midfielder’s decision to move has paid off: He is happy.

“I do feel at home here in San Jose,” Geovanni told MLSsoccer.com this week. “I’m very happy to be here. The people have treated me well and the team has accepted me well.”

Throughout his career, when Geovanni has felt comfortable, good things have usually followed.

Halfway through the 2002-03 season, a year-and-a-half after he failed to settle in with Spanish giants Barcelona—who had paid €20 million to take the midfielder to the Nou Camp—Geovanni was loaned out to Portuguese side Benfica for the remainder of the season and quickly carved out a spot for himself in the lineup.

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Benfica signed the player for the next three seasons and Geovanni helped the Eagles soar back to the top of the Portuguese totem pole. Benfica won the Portuguese Cup in 2004 – their first title of any kind since 1996 – and also took home the 2004-05 Portuguese League. On top of that, they bagged the 2005-06 Portuguese SuperCup.

When all was said and done in Lisbon, Geovanni left the club in 2006 with two Benfica Player of the Year awards (’04, ’05), having scored 17 goals in 94 appearances. He spent a year at Cruzeiro, the historic Brazilian club from which he had first emerged, before moving to Manchester City in the EPL.

Geovanni netted his first goal with City in his third game, and he made sure it was a memorable one. Crosstown rivals Manchester United had come to visit and Geovanni received them with a 30-yard strike that sent the Red Devils back with a loss.

He ended his Citizens career with three goals in 23 appearances, not enough to earn him a stay at the club, but enough to earn the interest from recently promoted Hull City.

Geovanni scored Hull’s first Premier League goal and went on to finish as the team’s top scorer in 2008 with eight as the Tigers avoided relegation. The next season, the club was not so lucky, and Geovanni and the team decided to split ways.

Go West, Young Brazilian

Enter his old friend André Luiz. The Brazilian midfielder had been the point of reference for San Jose’s offense ever since he’d joined the club midway through the 2009 season, shelling out passes from the top of a diamond midfield formation and calming things considerably in possession. But midway through 2010, he was sidelined with a season-ending injury. The offensive creativity went with him. San Jose’s attack fell flat and Quakes head coach Frank Yallop had to act fast if he wanted the club to continue past the 30th game.

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Yallop had often admired Geovanni’s exploits in the Premier League and knew that if they could get a player of his caliber, it just might be the offensive punch the team needed.

“A lot of names were bounced around a lot, but we kept bouncing back and forth to one,” said Yallop. “It was always too expensive—we weren’t going to get a DP—[but the club] talked about, thought about it, and said, ‘OK, we’ll do it for this year, see what happens the following year. It was a no-brainer for us to try and [sign him].”

It didn’t take long for Geovanni to settle into his new digs. Arriving in the 100-degree California summer months, Geovanni reunited with André Luiz and quickly warmed up to his new teammates. He also relished the opportunity to be the driving force behind the Quakes’ run to the promised land.

“When I came here, I came to fulfill an objective: Help the team reach the playoffs,” Geovanni said.

Abracadabra

Just a day after he was officially presented with his new No. 77 jersey (“I liked No. 11, 10, 8 or 7, but they were all taken”), San Jose’s new star entered the match against hated rivals Los Angeles to loud cheers from a hopeful crowd. He showed glimpses of magic in 20 minutes of action that day, but it wasn’t until two weeks later, against Houston, that he his tricks began to pay off.

Just five minutes into the match, the Brazilian took the ball on the right flank and unleashed a pinpoint pass to midfielder Khari Stevenson, who finished to give the Quakes an early lead. Then, in the 63rd minute, Geovanni floated into the box and pounced on a loose ball. It was the match winner, and eventual Goal of the Week.

Geovanni strikes matchwinner against Houston

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Immediately, defenses began focusing on containing Geovanni. This, in turn, opened up space for others, most notably Chris Wondolowski. The Golden Boot winner scored 11 of his 18 regular season goals after Geovanni’s arrival.

“Geovanni brings the whole possession sense to [our attack], and just his knowledge of the game, it’s amazing,” praises Wondolowski. “Before, we were real direct [when we attacked] and I feel like we may not have gotten as many opportunities. Now, with Geovanni helping us keep the ball and getting the ball wide, it provides a little more crosses where I can try to go in and attack them.

“Any time you have an offensive weapon like him, it will open up space and get the eyes of the defenders, so it’s really nice to have him.”

With the offensive punch back in the lineup, Geovanni’s objective of helping San Jose reach the playoffs was accomplished, and he now looks forward to helping the club win the title.

After disposing of New York in the Eastern Conference semifinal, the Quakes take on the Colorado Rapids in the Eastern Conference Championship (Saturday, 9:30 pm ET, FSC).

“I hope to play well on Saturday and reach the [MLS Cup] because winning the title is the dream of every player,” said Geovanni. “When I got here, I said my dream was to be a champion, and not many believed San Jose could get this far.”

READ: PLAYOFF TRIO GAINING RESPECT

But to reach the final step, Yallop needs Geovanni to be even more front-and-center.

“I want him to be more forceful in games and he knows that,” said Yallop. “He’s got to be the difference-maker on the team because he’s the one that’s got to be special. It’s not an easy league to do that. He’s feeling his feet and I think he’s pretty excited about what he’s doing right now.”

Right now is all that matters. What happens after this season remains up in the air. The Quakes have the option to keep Geovanni. For his part, he’d be happy to stay.

“I want to write my own story at every club I play for,” Geovanni said. “I want to make an imprint in San Jose, I want to make my mark here.”

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