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Chris Wondolowski headlines San Jose Earthquakes ‘Team of the Decade’

2010-19 was short on trophies, but the decade still featured some very impressive players in Black and Blue.

Chris Wondolowski, the all-time MLS goal scoring king, headlines the San Jose Earthquakes Best XI of the Decade, 2010-19. (Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — When determining the San Jose Earthquakes Best XI from 2010-2019, the conversation begins with one very obvious choice: forward Chris Wondolowski. As he embarks on his last year with the Quakes, it is with marvel to think back on those ten full years of double digits scoring that catapulted the once anonymous Reserve League player to the apex of the MLS all-time goal scoring list. No doubt, Wondolowski is the ’10s most valuable player.

The tough choices arise when filling out the remaining ten players on the all-decade squad. Who among the many dozens of players that shared the same orbit as Wondolowski deserve the honor? A few immediately come to mind, stalwarts for the Black and Blue, and they were written in in pen as the line-up began to take shape.

Jon Busch in goal and Victor Bernardez in the heart of the defense are two first-ballot selections, while midfielder Sam Cronin, the rock in central midfield for the first half of the decade, and Shea Salinas, with his blazing sideline runs, are two other obvious choices. All four players have a strong case to be inducted into the Earthquakes Hall of Fame one day.

Rounding out the rest of the line-up was a challenge, as there were some players that had their longevity in San Jose as an asset, while others excelled for a shorter burst of time. The great Ramiro Corrales, who was at the tail end of his illustrious career as the decade began, barely missed the cut, as did recent revelation Florian Jungwirth, whose exploits are certain to continue into the years ahead. The star of the future, Jackson Yueill, and the team’s current MVP, Cristian Espinoza, will have to await their nods in the Best of the ’20s.

Overall, there’s a lot of representation from the 2012 Supporters’ Shield winning side, the high point for the Earthquakes over the last 10 years, and the manager of that team, Frank Yallop, is this decade’s Best XI head coach. This wasn’t a scientific exercise in coming up with the 11 players that represent the Quakes best, but results were certainly a factor in the decision making.

Finally, sticking with Yallop’s typical tactical setup, the squad takes the 4-4-2 formation that was a mainstay for the Earthquakes throughout the ’10s. Matias Almeyda, the frontrunner to manager next decade’s Best XI, has already transformed the club in many ways, but from the We Believe 2010 season, through The Goonies of 2012, and to today’s La Familia, the Earthquakes look most familiar in that form.

The San Jose Earthquakes All-Decade Team (2010-2019)

Goalkeeper: Jon Busch (2010-14).

When he took over the starting job from Joe Cannon midway through the 2010 season, not many pegged him to persevere in the role, but Busch defied expectations. He went on to stand between the posts for 150 regular season games and 5 more in the playoffs. Named the team’s Defensive Player of the Year four times, Busch was the steady force behind the 2012 Supporters’ Shield winners, when many a miraculous save kept the team in it for the Goonies up top to perform their late-game magic. He played every minute (3060) and set a career mark for saves (137) in 2014, a disastrous season overall for the Quakes, but it wasn’t enough to keep his job, as new head coach Dominic Kinnear made changes. Busch, at his best, was at the top of the league in talent, with five of those years serving San Jose.

Honorable Mention: David Bingham (2011-17, starter in 2015-17).

Outside backs: Steven Beitashour (2010-2013) and Justin Morrow (2010-2013).

It’s hard not to merge Beitashour and Morrow into the same conversation. Both were drafted by the Quakes in 2010, two picks apart from each other, and their career arcs with San Jose, and beyond, are so similar. Their first two seasons were spent as understudies, but the seasoning they experienced in training set them up to take over the reigns in 2012, and the pair never looked back. The Earthquakes fast start in that campaign capitulated both Beitashour and Morrow into the national consciousness, and by midsummer, both were selected to the All-Star squad, starters in a 3-2 victory against Chelsea. They finished at #1 and #2 in minutes played for San Jose that season. One more year each was all they gave to the Quakes, but together, they defined the standard for outside backs in Black and Blue.

Honorable Mentions: Jordan Stewart (2013-2016), Marvell Wynne (2015-16), and Nick Lima (2017-19).

Centerbacks: Victor Bernardez (2012-17) and Jason Hernandez (2008-14).

Bernardez, the bruising and hulking Honduran, was a six-year starter and the heartbeat of the defensive back line for most of the decade. Never intimidated, Big Vic was fearless in throwing his body into harm’s way, yet he was one of the kindest and most supportive teammates the Quakes locker room has ever seen. His trademark finger-wag at opponents and referees, as well as his creative overheard clearance kicks from deep in Quakes territory, were crowd-pleasers. With 162 appearances and 14,123 minutes played in San Jose, Bernardez is the easy first-choice at centerback.

Hernandez was one of the first new Earthquakes following the team’s reincarnation in 2008, and for seven seasons he was a steady presence in the line-up. He was a quiet leader in the back, often overshadowed by the frame of Bernardez or the shouting of Busch, but the stability he brought the back line was unmistakable. He wasn’t a towering force in the air, using his positional awareness instead to break up the opponents’ attacks. And while he never scored for San Jose, he prevented plenty of goals with some memorable and dramatic goal-line clearances.

Honorable Mentions: Clarence Goodson (2013-16) and Florian Jungwirth (2017-19).

Outside Midfielders: Shea Salinas (2008-09, 2012-2019) and Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili (2017-19).

The Earthquakes first draft pick in 2008, Salinas was raw talent with a lot of speed, but not a lot of technical skill. From the start of his rookie season, through his years in Philadelphia and Vancouver, an upon his return to San Jose in 2012, Salinas worked endlessly to improve his game. What started in that Supporters’ Shield winning campaign and continues to the present day is a stretch of consistency, swaying from frustrating the electrifying, that defined Salinas this decade. His 15 goals and 41 assists in his past eight seasons highlight the contributions he’s made for the Earthquakes through the team’s best and worst seasons. He hit for a career-high six goals in 2019, even though he played more often off the bench, and shows few signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Vako, the mercurial Georgian midfielder, has run hot and cold in his three seasons in San Jose. At his best, he seems to glide on the field, ball attached to his foot, ready to dance through defenders on his way to goal. His 23 total goals are second most to Wondolowski in the post-2008 era, and he’s been, by far, the best imported Designated Player the Earthquakes have even signed. Though not always viewed as a team-first player, Vako has made great strides under Almeyda, and his best years may still lie ahead.

Honorable Mentions: Rafael Baca (2011-13), Dawkins (2011-12, 2016-17), and Marvin Chavez (2012-13).

Central Midfielders: Sam Cronin (2010-14) and Anibal Godoy (2015-19).

Cronin joined the Earthquakes via trade halfway through the 2010 season, and he immediately became a starter for a team that would surprisingly qualify for the playoffs. He finished his tenure with 140 appearances and 11480 minutes played, both top-twenty numbers in Quakes history, all the while anchoring the midfield with his dogged pursuit of the ball. Following a strong showing in the Supporters’ Shield campaign, Cronin went on to capture the team’s MVP award in 2013 for his overall excellence. Like Busch, he was left out of the team’s makeover ahead of the 2015 season and continued to shine elsewhere in MLS.

Upon his arrival in the summer of 2015, Godoy was a breath of fresh of fresh air for the central midfield. The Panamanian national teamer was tough off the ball and talented on it, and he was the perfect successor to Cronin as the Quakes fulcrum. For the three years leading up to the 2018 World Cup, Godoy was as established a player as any in the San Jose line-up. 

Honorable Mentions: Ramiro Corrales (2010-13) and Rafael Baca (2011-13).

Forwards: Chris Wondolowski (2005, 2009-19) and Steven Lenhart (2011-16).

There’s little Wondolowski didn’t do in rewriting the Earthquakes records book this decade, making 306 appearances totaling 25,440 minutes for the Black and Blue. Ten straight years of double digit goal scoring, a streak that might never again be accomplished in MLS, yielded him 152 of his all-time MLS record 159 goals. Two Golden Boot awards, the league’s Most Valuable Player honor in 2012, and seven team MVP awards vie for space in his personal trophy case. Wondolowski has announced that 2020 will be his last season with San Jose, and it’s no doubt that he’ll go out in style. Very few players in history can be called legends, but Wondo has earned it.

Lenhart arrived in San Jose following a shock trade with Columbus and quickly became a fan favorite at Buck Shaw Stadium. His relentless pursuit of the ball left him battered and torn, hastening an early end to his career, but his commitment to the cause could hardly be questioned. With the Quakes, Lenny totaled 20 goals and added eight assists in four productive seasons. Injuries on the field and personal challenges off it meant he slowly faded from the spotlights, but the always amicable Lenhart still can be seen at Avaya Stadium now and again.

Honorable Mentions: Alan Gordon (2011-14) and Danny Hoesen (2017-19).

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