Quakes' unsung hero: The Croninja

Stealthy midfielder receives recognition from teammates, fans

Try telling Earthquakes midfielder Sam Cronin that he’s having a strong season, and he balks at the notion. 

“I don’t know if it’s been great, to be honest,” he said this week. “I’ve been healthy, so I’ve been consistently in the lineup, but we haven’t picked up points, so it’s hard to say that anyone has had a good year on the team.” 

Point taken, but Quakes interim coach Mark Watson is giving the unsung fifth-year pro a passing grade. 

“Sammy’s been good for a long time,” Watson said. “He’s someone that maybe he doesn’t get the credit that he deserves. He plays maybe not the flashiest position. He does a lot of work -- a lot of the dirty work -- and doesn’t get a chance to get forward that much and maybe get some recognition. He quietly goes about his business. … We know what value he brings to the team. He’s been great for us.” 

Outside Quakes camp, word is absolutely out about Cronin, who has two goals, three assists, and has amassed 1,711 minutes, starting all 20 games. Cronin and Victor Bernardez were among six players who just missed being selected to the Fan XI for the MLS All-Star Game (July 31 vs. AS Roma at Sporting Park-Kansas City). 

Even though he came up short in the voting, Cronin smiled when asked about the fan support: “Yeah, it feels good.”

Though it’s not really Cronin’s job to score, he can score with the best of them. Chris Wondolowski, who tied the league scoring record with 27 goals last season, will vouch for Cronin’s deft and powerful shot  - an endorsement that evoked a grin from Cronin when it was relayed to him. 

“He’s very stealthy in the fact that he doesn’t go forward a lot, but when he does he’s been very effective,” Watson said. “He’s made some late runs, some we work on a lot. It’s usually Rafa (Baca) making those late runs, but Sammy’s made a couple and he’s scored a couple goals.” 

With a knack for delivering in the big moment, Cronin has brought sold-out crowds at Stanford Stadium to their feet in back-to-back California Clasicos. In the Quakes’ 3-2 win over the Galaxy on June 29, Cronin received a pass from Shea Salinas on the right and chipped a deft pass to the far post as Alan Gordon nodded in the winner in the 93rd minute. Cronin’s lone goal last year, to go along with six assists, was the equalizer in a memorable 4-3 win over the Galaxy at Stanford. 

But hey, if you’re going to score, you might as well do it in front of 50,000 people.

In the run-up to this year’s Clasico, Cronin foreshadowed the team’s performance. 

“We don’t want to disappoint them,” he said in anticipation of another big crowd. “The effort needs to be good, and the quality of play needs to be up to a high standard as well.” 

On June 15, Cronin scored off a looping Baca assist in a 2-1 road win the Colorado Rapids, which gave Watson his first win. Cronin scored the tying goal in second-half stoppage time in a 2-2 draw with Montreal Impact on May 4, taking a knockdown header from Wondolowski and rifling a shot through traffic into the far corner. Cronin also assisted rookie Adam Jahn on the Quakes' first goal of the match that halved a 2-0 deficit, completing a sequence that began with passes from Marvin Chavez and Wondolowski. 

A former Hermann Trophy finalist at Wake Forest and NSCAA First Team All-American, Cronin has been durable and productive at every stop. In 2012, Cronin assisted Wondolowski twice in a win over Toronto FC, the club that selected Cronin No. 3 overall in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. He started 26 of 27 games at Toronto FC in 2009. He also has two caps with the U.S. national team. 

After being dealt to the Quakes in 2010 for allocation money, Cronin played 90 minutes against Real Salt Lake in his debut on June 25.

With the Quakes in eighth place in the Western Conference and needing a lift, Cronin knows the importance of Saturday’s conference showdown with Seattle, after back-to-back road losses to Chicago and New England. 

Maybe home cooking at Buck Shaw Stadium will lift the Quakes. 

“It’s great to be back here,” Cronin said. “Disappointing road trip - we didn’t do enough to pick up points in either game, really. We had chances to do well and get points, but we didn’t. We weren’t able to be successful with that, so great to be back here. We have a big, massive game here this weekend.” 

Seems like a perfect time for a stealthy midfielder to hold court. 

- Richter Media