FEATURE: Thursday’s signings prove value of San Jose-Reno relationship

On Thursday afternoon, the San Jose Earthquakes announced that the club had signed three players from USL affiliate Reno 1868 FC. Defender Jimmy Ockford and midfielders Chris Wehan and Luis Felipe helped Reno climb the table in the team’s record-setting USL campaign en route to a postseason berth. The three players will all be competing with the First Team in 2018, while the possibility remains, as it does with every player, they could return to Reno on loan to get more minutes throughout the season.

Thursday’s announcement, however, was far deeper than just the transition of three players from USL to MLS. It tied a neat bow on what the Earthquakes have been preaching for some time now – this affiliation has purpose.

Reno’s roster, which is controlled by San Jose, has been used as a season-long tryout for the First Team. Regardless of a player’s background, the United Soccer League campaign is a perfect opportunity to prove one’s value and talent to a host of scouts and team execs.

Heading into 2017, Ockford, 25, was a former top-25 SuperDraft selection with three years of pro experience under his belt. Wehan, 23, was an undrafted midfielder from the University of New Mexico. Luis Felipe, 21, was a former U.S. U-20 player that had been toiling in the North American Soccer League. All three, and others, were presented with a chance: work hard and play well and you’ll be given a real shot at an MLS contract for 2018.

Luis Felipe

These transactions also show every overlooked, talented player around the country that Reno presents more than a paycheck and a soccer pitch. It comes with an opportunity. The best players will now view 1868 FC as a destination.

Reno has already been busy restocking the cupboards after sending the three players to the Quakes. The team announced two signings a week ago in Brazilian forward Victor Pelae and Israeli midfielder Guy Abend.

The Sao Paulo, Brazil native was most recently with the NASL’s Miami Fusion where he scored 12 goals. He was a member of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers before joining Miami.

“I couldn’t be happier to sign with Reno for the 2018 season,” Pelae said through the team press release. “It has been a long journey to get here and I want to thank everyone in the organization who made this possible. I’m thrilled to be a part of this family and hope to be a positive contribution to my team on and off the field.”

Abend, a native of Israel, was a regular starter with USL side Louisville FC during their championship season. He scored his first and only goal on Sept. 2 and provided a defensive presence all season long, recording 30 clearances, two blocks and 39 interceptions in 2017.

“I’m very happy to join Reno next season,” Abend said. “I’m excited to be a part of this project and really looking forward to working with Ian, the staff and the lads. I can’t wait to get on the pitch at Greater Nevada Field and play in front of our fans. Let’s do work and make it one to remember.” 

The club also re-signed six players to new contracts, including defenders Brenton Griffiths, Jordan Murrell and Brent Richards, midfielder Seth Casiple and forwards Brian Brown and Boxi Yomba. Darwin Espinal, a former No. 1 rated player in the PDL, will also remain with 1868 FC after his 2018 option was exercised.

Chris Wehan

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