Perhaps the single word that best summed up Sam Cronin’s team MVP season for the San Jose Earthquakes in 2013 was this: indefatigable.
Stationed in the center of the Quakes’ 4-4-2, Cronin never stopped running – until offseason surgery forced him off his feet. Shortly after the season ended, he underwent a procedure to remove a nerve in the bottom of his foot, similar to one of the surgeries teammate Alan Gordon had last winter.
Because of that fact, when the Quakes open training camp on Monday, Cronin won’t be buzzing around in his usual tireless fashion. The 27-year-old, entering his sixth MLS season, is back to running after two months of forced inactivity following the November surgery, but he’s not quite at the point of participating fully in practices. And he’s certainly not where he wants to be at the start of camp – which would be ahead of the curve, conditioning-wise.
“I’m excited to get back to it,” Cronin told MLSsoccer.com by phone last week. “That was the longest I’ve had to give my body a rest in my career. So I’ve been a little antsy and grumpy with the fact that I haven’t been able to move too much.”
Cronin has other reasons to want to get up to speed. As the holdover in a revamped central midfield corps, he's in line to be turned loose more often in a partnership with newly acquired Ligue 1 veteran Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, freeing him from the primarily defensive role he filled last season playing alongside Rafael Baca.
General manager John Doyle said after Pierazzi’s signing the he could see Cronin – who had two goals and four assists in MLS play last season – and the Frenchman working as tandem box-to-box players.
“I’m excited about Jean-Baptiste and introducing him and welcoming him to the team,” Cronin said. “I know he’s really excited to be in the US and to be joining the team, so hopefully all that positive energy transitions into good play and a really strong year. Because last year was far from good enough for our standards.”
Dealing Baca to Cruz Azul late last month broke up a two-and-a-half-year partnership between he and Cronin. The pair were the unsung engine behind San Jose’s record-setting attack in 2012, when the club set new franchise bests in goals (72) and points (66) en route to the Supporters’ Shield.
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“I knew there were possibilities for something to happen, but I didn’t expect it,” Cronin said. “It seems like a great thing for Rafa. I know he’s excited, it’s been a dream of his to play in Mexico. ... Obviously, it’s part of the business. With the salary cap and individual players’ aspirations, it’s hard to keep a group together.”
As the Quakes’ leader in minutes played last year, Cronin is also in a position to serve as mentor to the club’s first-round selection in this year’s SuperDraft, Stanford midfielder J.J. Koval.
“Everyone’s getting older, and I am, too,” Cronin said. “It’s definitely my responsibility for me to help get [younger players] acclimated. ...
"What we’ve done a really good job with in other past years is leadership by committee. We haven’t had just one player everyone listens to, and it’s only his voice that’s important. I think it’s best when you have multiple guys taking ownership of the team.”