Fan Feature: Hondurans in San Jose

Local restaurant dishes up authentic cuisine and support for Catrachos Quakes

After Honduran Walter “Pery” Martinez scored his first goal with the Earthquakes, soccer aficionado Will Pineda made a savvy move of his own.

The owner of Maya Café in San Jose asked for and received the jersey Martinez wore in the 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders on July 13 at Buck Shaw Stadium.

Pineda’s cherished keepsake, No. 10, is pretty much No. 1 in his heart. The jersey is now on a wall in his quaint restaurant, on 2616 Union Avenue – a haven for soccer nuts and lovers of authentic Honduran food.

“It’s something special. I have that jersey,” Pineda said proudly.

These are heady times for Honduran transplants in Northern California, what with three of the Central American republic’s elite, and beloved, players competing for the Earthquakes.

Along with Martinez, Victor “Muma” Bernardez, one of the most dominating center backs in MLS, and speedy wing Marvin Chavez, “El Hijo del Viento (son of the wind),” are turning heads on the field and in Maya Café, where the trio is known to dine, sign autographs and gladly pose for photographs.

“They say ‘Hi’ to everybody,” Pineda said.

Pineda is a soccer nut even before lunch is served, much like his countrymen.

“We’re a happy people,” he said. “The football, the soccer, is like a religion for everybody, for all the people of Honduras.”

Quakes super fan Freddie Oyuela, a Hollister resident, describes having three Hondurans in the fold as “amazing.” Oyuela thinks the contrasting styles of the diminutive Chavez and hulking but skilled Bernardez work well together in the flow of the game.

Thus, it follows that he’d be over-the-moon about the Quakes’ current state.

“Honduras is very proud to have these players over here, and that’s the reason we come to out to watch them,” Oyuela said. “We’re a small country, a third world country, but we really want to come out to the United States because this is the place to be, the place to make a family and grow. We come over for an opportunity, and we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

Talk about a surreal world for Pineda, who relocated to the United States from Honduras in 2003 and owned a pharmaceutical business for seven years before opening the restaurant. He says all they talk about is “football” at the café, dwelling on the Quakes’ playoff chances and in the CONCACAF Champions League. He personally sold about 60 tickets for a recent home game.

Pineda says kids from ages 10 to 15 love to mix with the Honduran superstars at the café.

“Sometimes we can’t believe it,” Pineda said. “Sometimes when they come here to have lunch with us, stuff like that, and the customers stop by, they feel like they can’t even imagine they were here and they met them. Everybody’s happy and excited.”

Chavez, who came to the Quakes from FC Dallas in 2011, and Bernardez played key roles on the Quakes’ rise to an MLS Supporters Shield last season, and Martinez came on board in the winter after tryouts with Colorado and DC United.

Martinez, a 2010 World Cup veteran, seems to relish the companionship of his countrymen on and off the field. He and Chavez were teammates at Honduran clubs Victoria and Marathón.

“It’s very important for me to be somewhere (with) countrymen,” Martínez told MLSsoccer.com in March. “I played in China and Spain and didn’t have any other people from Honduras there. Now I not only have two ... we’ve known each other all our lives. It’s very important to me personally. It will make a big difference in my adjustment to the team.”

More reserved in public than the outgoing Chavez, Bernardez joined San Jose after three years with Belgian power RSC Anderlecht, where he appeared in 22 matches, including three UEFA Europa League fixtures. In 2011, he played for Lierse SK (Belgium) and Indios (Mexico) while on loan. He scored twice on set-piece header goals for Indio to deliver a 2-2 draw at Pumas Morelos.

No matter the Quakes roster, Oyuela has been attending games, even practices, in the South Bay since the Quakes were called the San Jose Clash in 1996. But he admits that the connection wasn't the same without Honduran players on the team.

On a personal note, Oyuela was friends with Bernardez’s uncle, Salvador, a former Honduran national team player who died of a heart attack in 2011 in San Francisco. Salvador and Victor Bernardez both have played for C.D. Montagua in Honduras.

How devoted is Oyuela to Honduran soccer? He even traveled to Salt Lake City to watch Chavez and Honduras fall to the United States in the Gold Cup. He's always monitoring his iPhone for Quakes' updates.

"It's amazing. I'm proud to be a Honduran. It's my blood. I'm proud to be in the United States, too," Oyuela said.

- Richter Media