With Jason Hernandez and Brandon McDonald paired as starters in central defense last season, the San Jose Earthquakes went 3-2-4. With any other combination, they were 4-12-5.
So when Hernandez showed up for the Quakes’ 2010 training camp, his to-do list seemed clear.
“I thought with me coming healthy during preseason and him coming back from national team [camp], it was kind of a no-brainer that we were going to pick up where we left off,” Hernandez told MLSsoccer.com. “Unfortunately, the team’s needs come before ours personally.”
In this instance, that meant McDonald – who had been playing at center back for Bob Bradley in the US National Team’s January training sessions – had to take over as a holding midfielder for coach Frank Yallop, who was dissatisfied with his other options in central midfield.
“I talked to Frank and it was just a matter of personnel,” McDonald told MLSsoccer.com. “At the same time, we knew we had something good [in the Hernandez-McDonald combination]. Things happen and you just roll with it.”
Hernandez started the year partnering first with Ike Opara at center back, then Bobby Burling. Eventually, he served a stint at right back in place of injured Chris Leitch.
When Burling was hurt Aug. 7 against Colorado, McDonald and Hernandez were finally reunited in the middle. Since then, in 407 minutes with that pair as a center-back tandem, the Quakes have allowed just one goal, and they’ve gone 3-0-1 with the duo in the starting lineup.
“There’s a chemistry that we built last year,” Hernandez said. “Our defense at the end of last year, when we were both on the field there, it was very stingy.”
The success has pushed Burling to the bench, even though he was having his best MLS season to date and he represents one of the targets the Quakes had been using to great effect on their corner kicks. Opara is still out with a broken bone in his left foot.
“[Hernandez and McDonald] are hot right now, doing a good job and playing well together,” Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “You don’t break up guys who are playing well.”
Each member of the Hernandez-McDonald duo brings something different to the table.
“He has the speed aspect and I’m more physical,” McDonald said. “Our personalities match well. We both have open minds where we listen to each other and communicate well.”
That feeling of openness has helped the Quakes maintain their standards, even though they’ve used nine different permutations on the back line with nine different players.
“We can tell each other anything,” McDonald said. “In some situations, there’s one guy as the head honcho, and no one else speaks. With our back line, it’s a free-for-all. We all speak our minds.”
But where they differ physically, the pair exhibit similar attitudes, which also helps keep them in sync.
“We complement each other very well,” Hernandez explained. “We’re perfectionists.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes