Jason Hernandez is great source of perspective on the Earthquakes' rise from expansion team to MLS powerhouse. A center back alongside Honduran Victor Bernardez in the Quakes' 2012 drive to the Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference Semifinals, Hernandez was the Quakes' eighth round selection of the 2008 MLS Expansion Draft.
Today, life is good for Hernandez on and off the field. The Quakes veteran signed a new contract in the offseason and recently moved to San Franciso.
Born in New York City and raised in New Jersey, Hernandez made his MLS debut in 2005 with the MetroStars. He was dealt to Chivas USA, where he had 50 appearances and 33 starts over the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Then Hernandez found a home in San Jose and a place in the hearts of Quakes' fans. The 29-year-old has played in 124 games (starting in 122) over five productive seasons for San Jose.
He figures to be a perfect role model for the Quakes top draft pick last week, defender Tommy Muller of Georgetown.
Hernandez recently took some time during his preparations for the 2013 season to answer some questions:
SJEarthquakes.com: How are things going?
Jason Hernandez: Things are going very well. I’ve been with San Jose going on six years now, and it’s been a really cool ride. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster. Some years we show some great promise, and some years we were disappointed in our outcome. But yeah, definitely I’m very excited to be coming back, to be signing a new contract and to be with the club and the city and the area that’s given me a lot on and off the field, especially after last year. Putting together a great run and having a lot of good pieces in place and having those pieces come back. I’m looking forward to a pretty exciting year.
SJEQ: Did you just move out to San Francisco?
JH: Yes, I did. A little more than a month ago I moved to San Francisco. I actually in my previous years lived in south San Jose and then in downtown San Jose, and I went into the Menlo Park/Palo Alto area. It was just kind of a progression of seeing different parts of the area. I see San Francisco as a great city. It’s one of the best cities in the country, and it just seemed like the right time to go up there and explore that and experience that a little bit, being that I got to experience all the bay has to offer as far as the peninsula goes. Full disclosure, my girfriend lives up in the area, so that was also a huge factor for me, just being close to her and being able to spend more time near her. That was a big reason for me getting up there was important to me as well.
SJEQ: You guys came up short of the ultimate goal last year to win the championship, but you did get into the CONCACAF and won the Supporters’ Shield. Do you have extra motivation to go that next step?
JH: It was good to get a little taste of success in the regular season for the club. We haven’t really been at the top of the table for a couple of years, so that was a great accomplishment. At the same time, a lot of us understand we came up short. Our final goal is to hold the championship at the end, and so it is definitely a huge motivating factor coming into this year, and I would imagine a lot of teammates all feel the same way. We have a lot of unfinished business coming into the season. We’re looking forward to the challenge because we have the guys and the character to go in and face a challenge like that.
SJEQ: Do you see, as a veteran player, taking Muller under your wing a little bit?
JH: Yeah. Every year there are new guys that come into the fold. Some shake out and some pan out, and others not so much. You embrace everyone that comes in to your team as a new member of our family going forward, and I can speak for myself that I had a lot of guys when I was a young player that helped me out a great deal, from Jeff Agoos to Claudio Suarez. I played next to and under some of the best to do it around this part of the world, and so I definitely embrace that role. Any way I can help I try to do so. We all want to make our environment with the Quakes about winning and improving and getting the best out of everyone, and so we’ll continue to do that.
SJEQ: How long do you want to be a professional soccer player?
JH: That’s a good question. I never really put a timeframe or kind of a limit on what I want to do as far as the rest of my years in the game. I think I’ve had a relatively healthy career up to this point. I think that will dictate my longetivity going forward. I’d like to play as long as I consider myself having a positive impact on my team and performing at a high level. Once I stop bringing more positives to the table than negatives, then it will be time to look elsewhere, but for right now I don’t see the finish line in my career. I’m just looking at trying to be better in my sixth year with the Quakes than I was in the fifth year with the Quakes. I think I can do that.
SJEQ: You’ve seen this club come a long way from when it was an expansion club to where it is now. Can you look back and discuss how the landscape has changed?
JH: Yeah, it’s been a really cool experience. I feel like I’ve been with something from the ground up. I was there from the first day we all walked into preseason until now. We have a stadium on the horizon, and having all these important improvements, on the field, our training facility, in the front office, and it’s been a very cool ride. It’s been very cool to see the progression over the years. I think the product that you’re seeing on the field right now is a testiment to a lot of blood, sweat and tears and not-so-great times that we had since San Jose’s been back. We have good people, people with good character working in every facet of our organization, and that’s why last year we started to reap some of the rewards from all that.
SJEQ: Can you discuss the evolution of defenders in this country to the hybrid models of today, in which they are athletic, attack-minded, well-rounded players, etc.?
JH: It’s funny. As each year has gone by, you see defenses as a whole getting more athletic and adding things to their game. Before, a defender was considered just a big body who would snuff out attacks and be a big bruiser and really didn’t have much technical aspects to their game or really weren’t very creative. Now, sometimes, you look at our fullbacks as some of the more dynamic guys in the match because they’re up and down creating havoc down the lines. For myself, for the most part with Victor Bernardez, who was next to me, we took pride in doing our best to create advantages for our team with our passing out of the back, and really trying to put guys in good spots and play the ball and try to start the offense from the defensive side of the ball. A lot of teams are like that now. You see a lot of players on the back line who are athletic and technical and can really play. On top of that, they’re big and strong and good in the air. So I think in all sports, especially in this one, you are seeing players evolve, and that’s just one part of it.
SJEQ: Is the versatility of defenders taking the American game to another level?
JH: I think you can see that all over the world. You can see players improving in each postion, and defenders are just another part of the puzzle. I think as time goes on, you’re going to see more and more out of a backline than you did 20 or 30 years ago.