The chance may not have come in the most ideal way, but Earthquakes defender Jason Hernandez stands poised nonetheless to earn his 100th start in club colors in front of the home crowd this Saturday night against first-place Real Salt Lake (7:30 p.m. PT / CSNBA, 1590 KLIV, 1370 KZSF).
Honduran center back Victor Bernardez is out for an expected and extended four to six weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, suffered late in the first half of the 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls. That means a likely spot again for Hernandez in head coach Frank Yallop’s starting lineup.
“It’s pretty special,” said Hernandez. “I’ve had four good seasons here, representing the club and the fans. It’s a special thing to play in front of the same people who have supported you from day one. I look forward to getting to that mark. I never really thought those first couple of seasons that I’d be standing here making my 100th start for the same club. It’s exciting for me, and I’d like to follow it up with a good performance this weekend.”
“Looking at professional milestones, this is a huge one for Jason,” added Yallop, himself just one win short of No. 100 for his MLS managerial career. “He’s had a fantastic career so far, and been brilliant for me since he’s been here. (It is) much deserved, and I’m very happy for him to reach this milestone. Hopefully, we can get a win with it, too.”
Having spent his rookie season with his hometown MetroStars and two subsequent years with Chivas USA, the New York native was selected by the Earthquakes during the 2007 MLS Expansion Draft, after it was made official that the franchise would rejoin the league for the 2008 campaign. Of the 30 players on the current roster, only two other holdovers remain from that 2008 squad, in captain Ramiro Corrales and winger Shea Salinas. Salinas had in fact departed via league expansion after the 2009 season, but returned in November in a trade with Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Over his first four years in San Jose, Hernandez started each of the 99 matches he appeared in. He also played the full 270 minutes of the Quakes’ three games during the 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs. So far this season, he has had to embrace a different role, yet has still provided a pair of solid performances off the bench.
Coming on for an ailing Corrales at halftime at Seattle Sounders FC and for the injured Bernardez at New York Red Bulls, Hernandez didn’t skip a beat, helping the San Jose back line keep both opponents scoreless over those 90-plus minutes and bring home four valuable points.
The by-example leadership Hernandez has provided for the Quakes has helped mentor a pair of third-year defenders in Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow, who have each played all 540 minutes thus far on the year.
“I wouldn’t say that Jason’s a quiet leader, because he’s not,” said Yallop. “He speaks his mind. He always gives 100 percent in games and in training. A lot of times, people can talk a good game, but Jason actually does it. He works hard, he plays hard, and he plays well. He plays the right way, for us, and that’s contagious. He’s played a lot of games, and for the young guys coming into the club each year, to see a person like Jason giving 100 percent effort in everything he does, that’s inspiring and motivating.”
“Jay’s been a huge part of (my development),” offered Beitashour. “He’s always known that I’m a good player, and he talks to me a lot. He’s been (very) influential. I try to watch and learn.”
Hernandez, his coach, back-line mates and Quakes fans alike, certainly hope to mesh milestones with a perch atop the MLS Western Conference this Saturday.
“It’s two teams who have started the season well,” concluded Hernandez. “Being at home, we want to press the issue and make sure that we make it difficult for (RSL) to play. Every time we’ve played them here at Buck Shaw, it’s been a spirited match, so I’m looking forward to a real high-intensity, tough game. We’re up for the challenge.”