CenterLine Report: Thankful for a memorable season

The 2012 season gave Quakes fans much to be thankful for

Ever since the San Jose Earthquakes returned to MLS in 2008, local soccer supporters have had something to be thankful for. Plain and simple: there is nothing quite like the experience of watching the beautiful game live and in person. The visual scope of the game often doesn’t translate from bleacher seat to comfortable couch, nor do the sounds — often salty, but always invigorating — from the field and stands. The atmosphere and camaraderie of the crowd and the team at a Quakes games is for many fans the highlight event of their week.

And in 2012, the club and its supporters elevated that experience to uncharted heights of excitement and entertainment. The Earthquakes, picked by many to struggle through the regular season in search of a precious entry into the MLS Cup Playoffs, shocked the soccer nation in capturing the Supporters’ Shield as the best team in the league. Sure, the postseason did not go according to script, and heated rivals LA Galaxy and Houston Zombie-Quakes will duke it out for the Cup, but in the afterglow of an amazing 2012 regular season, and with Thanksgiving just days away, Earthquakes fans have so much to be thankful for from their Boys in Blue and Black.

Stoppage Time: For most sports, the clock plays an integral part in the countdown to the final whistle. However, in the free-flowing game of soccer, just because the stadium scoreboard reads 90:00 does not mean the action is over. The 2012 Earthquakes threw convention out the window and made the scarce minutes of bonus soccer at the end of every match their own. After all, these were the ‘80s cult-movie inspired “Goonies never say die” Earthquakes, not some pushover “Game over, man. Game over!” imposters that gave up at the slightest scent of defeat.

No, Private Hudson types didn’t have a place on this elite squad. Instead, these Quakes treasure seekers kicked it into another gear as soon as the fourth official raised the stoppage time board at the center line stripe. How so? Well, the 10 goals scored by San Jose beyond the 90th minute smashed the previous MLS record, and the Earthquakes earned 5 wins and 4 draws for their late match heroics. Sitting — but more often standing — in the stands at Buck Shaw Stadium, or intently watching on television during a road game, fans knew that the Quakes were never going to give up.

Bash Brothers: For the last few seasons the Earthquakes technical staff has tried to find a true target forward to lead the point on offense. A bruising attacker that could keep defenses occupied, but also would chip in a healthy amount of goals. In 2012, the pieces came together in the soccer equivalent of the great Oakland A’s ‘80s era sluggers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire — affectionately known as the Bash Brothers — when Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon, healthy and hungry, donned the Blue and Black.

The two forwards combined for 23 goals on the season, Gordon with 13 and Lenhart with 10, in a total number of minutes equivalent to just over 32 games played. Often one would start and the other would enter as his substitute, meaning opposing defenders never got a rest from their physical play. What was all the effect of wearing the opponent down? From the 74th minute on, Gordon and Lenhart combined to score 14 goals, 5 of those in stoppage time. The Bash Brothers were truly a spectacle to behold.

Chivas USA: Why mention that other team from LA in a list of things Quakes fans should be thankful for? Quite simply, a focus on the folly that was the 2012 Rojiblancos serves to demonstrate just how impressive a season was had by Chris Wondolowski. The team — and soon-to-be league — MVP had the best offensive season ever recorded in MLS. His 27 goals matched the all-time scoring record of Roy Lassiter set in 1996. Chivas USA as a team managed only 24 goals — Wondo outscored an entire MLS team in 2012!

Digging a little deeper into Wondolowski’s numbers helps to magnify how impressive his season was in league history. A career-high 7 assists, when added to his Budweiser Golden Boot winning 27 goals, give Wondo the highest points total ever recorded in MLS. Over the last three years, Wondolowski has scored 61 goals for San Jose, becoming the first player to surpass 60 goals in that span of seasons.

And what about the Earthquakes franchise record book? Does anybody know a good printer, because the old one was thrown out the window long before the end of this season. Along with his season-high goal record, Wondolowski surpassed Ronald Cerritos to become the Earthquakes all-time leading scorer. And with Wondo leading the charge, the team’s total of 72 goals was a club record — third best in MLS history. Lastly, the defense did their job this season as well, and San Jose finished 2012 with a whooping +29 goal differential. Thank you very much, Earthquakes!

Los Catrachos: The 2012 Earthquakes roster was not so much a complete overhaul from the past season; rather, it was a fine tuned list of players that complemented one another in skill and enthusiasm toward a Supporters’ Shield winning year. And two of those additions were Honduran internationals Victor Bernardez and Marvin Chavez. Best buddies on and off the field, the two talents brought a winning attitude to San Jose and rallied the locker room together from the preseason.

Little Chavez with his infectious smile and large Bernardez with his steely stare seemed polar opposites on the pitch, but the two Hondurans shared a bond beyond that of their home country. Big Vic was there to provide a shoulder ride for Marvin in celebration of each of the midfielder’s goals. Blessedly he did not return the favor in kind when the defender scored — spinal health aficionados throughout Quakes country were heard to let out a collective sigh of relief — electing instead for a leaping hug onto the statuesque Bernardez.

For both their service to San Jose in securing the Supporters’ Shield and to Honduras in advancing Los Catrachos to the World Cup qualifying Hexagonal, Earthquakes fans can be thankful for having the wonderful Chavez and Bernardez in the fold.

Hardware: Clearly the most important hardware earned in 2012 was the Supporters’ Shield, right? Sure, the spade-shaped trophy will look good in the club’s collection, but the more important hardware to fans of the team just might be those prized blue shovels they used to set a Guinness World Record at the Earthquakes new stadium groundbreaking last October. Quite fitting that both the Shield and the shovels were awarded on the same weekend, as they serve as emblems for what is being built in San Jose and promises a bright future for Earthquakes soccer.

With every key component of the player roster expected to return in 2013 — securing Simon Dawkins is the last step — this season’s Shield winner will look to take the next step toward an MLS Cup championship. It has happened before for San Jose, though within a slightly different context, as the 2005 Supporters’ Shield winning Quakes suffered a disappointing playoffs exit, and as the relocated Houston Dynamo went on to win the next two MLS Cups. The recipe that was used to form the current Earthquakes was nearly identical to that 2005 squad, so expectations of a continued run of excellence in San Jose will be high. And after witnessing the character of the 2012 squad, that outcome seems very much in play.

Meanwhile, on an expanse of cement just an errant Bernardez free kick attempt from Buck Shaw Stadium, 6256 intrepid San Jose soccer supporters, most with blue commemorative shovels in hand, supplied two minutes of digging in breaking ground on the Earthquakes new stadium and set the stage for new era for the organization. The beautifully appointed 18,000 seat Soccer City USA shrine is scheduled to be completed in time for the start of the 2014 season, and many faithful fans have already secured their seats in the new stadium. Soon, and throughout the 2013 season, those same supporters will get to watch with anticipation as the structure takes form where a month ago they were basking in a dusty pit of freshly overturned dirt. And if the project is ever subject to delay, 6256 shovel-wielding fans will be at the ready to lend a hand.

So be thankful, Quakes followers, and enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. Perhaps, with the efforts of the players and the support of the fans, 2013 and beyond will be just as exciting and fruitful as this most amazing year of Earthquakes soccer.