The San Jose Earthquakes have numerous players that have garnered respect and admiration around Major League Soccer over the years, including forward Chris Wondolowski and defender Clarence Goodson. But two players acquired over the past nine months have ignited both the club and fan base into a frenzy.
Midfielders Anibal Godoy and Alberto Quintero, whom both represent their home nation of Panama on the international stage, have lovingly become known as the Panamaniacs.
The two hard-working playmakers both arrived from ‘lesser’ leagues around the globe – Godoy from the Nemzeti Bajnokság (National Championship) in Hungary and Quintero from Ascenso MX, the lower level of Mexico. Neither player’s name carried a tremendous club pedigree or had Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or Ligue 1 experience on their resume, but what they possessed was a tremendous set of skills that were under-appreciated and under-valued by much of the soccer universe.
Godoy arrived during the middle of last season to little fanfare. A team that was struggling to score goals decided to bring in a primarily defensive midfielder, while already having the eventual Rookie of the Year runner up at the same position. But there was something different about Godoy, a calming presence that could successfully orchestrate the transition from defense to attack, while proving to be a major obstacle for opponents attempting to attack through the middle. While he hasn’t always been the one finding the back of the net, his cool demeanor and confidence on the ball has made everyone around him better, improved the club’s aggressiveness, and by extension, sparked the offense. He has started 17 games for San Jose so far and the Quakes are 10-3-4 in those matches.
Let’s take a step back to really examine the significance of that record. In essentially half of a 34-game season, San Jose has earned an average of two points in each of Godoy’s starts (34 points in 17 games). Only two teams in MLS history, since overtime was abolished in 2000, have ever averaged two points per game through a season – the 2001 Miami Fusion (2.04) and the 2005 San Jose Earthquakes (2).
Quintero then followed Godoy’s footsteps to the Bay Area, joining the Quakes on loan just prior to the start of the season. At least from the outside, much like Godoy, Quintero’s greatest career achievement at that point was making more than 60 appearances for his country. Head coach Dominic Kinnear agreed:
“I just look at how he plays for Panama,” Kinnear said following a training session earlier this season. “I always kind of gauge it, ‘How is he against Mexico? How is he against the USA? Or Costa Rica?’ You could consider those to be the top three teams in CONCACAF, and in all the games I’ve seen him play (against those sides), he’s always played well.”
Despite Quintero’s diminutive stature (he stands just 5-6, 132 lbs.), he hasn’t shied away from contact in a notoriously physical league. In fact, his speed and aggression has made him among the team’s most dangerous attacking options, evidenced by his three goals and two assists so far this season. On Wednesday night against the Dynamo, he became the first Earthquakes player with multiple goals and an assist in a single game since Chris Wondolowski in July of 2012.
What separates Quintero from other players is his willingness to work even when it appears there is no loot to be found. Take his first goal against Houston for example. By the time the ball was played wide to Wondolowski, Quintero was still in the center circle. His 40-yard sprint into the box caught the Dynamo defense napping and he was able to grab San Jose a goal just two and a half minutes into the match.
The #Panamaniacs later combined on a spectacular one-two, leading to a goal by Godoy. When questioned after the match if the slick passing was a natural product of their extensive time together, Quintero had a classic response:
“You could see he was making his run. In addition, he was yelling ‘Give me the ball.’ ”
Although Quintero’s loan is only through the 2016 MLS season, he has his sights set on a long-term future at Avaya Stadium.
“I want to be here,” Quintero said following his two-goal performance on Wednesday night. “I know I’m here on loan, [but] I want to be here for a long time. I love being here. So I work hard every game.”