SAN JOSE, Calif. — During a trying week for the San Jose Earthquakes, when frustrations have boiled over to the point that principles at every level of the organization have voiced their concerns regarding the team’s last-place standing, a bright spot has emerged.
Guram Kashia, signed to a TAM-level contract back in June and announced on the opening day of the FIFA World Cup, had finally arrived in San Jose and began his first training sessions with the Quakes. The centerback, 31, formerly of Vitesse Arnhem, is expected to add some experience to an Earthquakes back line that has struggled this season, allowing more than two goals per game.
“He’s a solid player and a solid guy,” head coach Mikael Stahre told Pro Soccer USA. “A true pro and has been in a professional environment for many years. From everything I have heard about him back in Holland, he has been a good captain and leader throughout the years. He will help our team, help us stabilize things, and give us more experience and leadership in the back line. That’s why he is here.”
When general manager Jesse Fioranelli signed the Georgian international, he had hoped he could join the team ahead of the opening of the MLS summer transfer window on July 10, but delays in securing his paperwork scuttled those plans. Now that the former Vitesse captain has arrived, the process of getting him up to speed can begin.
“Yeah, I think he is a great leader, a person we can really use right now,” Chris Wondolowski said. “It will be nice to have someone organizing us in the back and really taking that leadership role and its nice to have that.”
For his part, Kashia has been working to quickly assimilate himself within the squad, getting to know all of his teammates on the training ground and taking instructions from Stahre and the rest of the coaching staff. His first impression gives him hope that he can contribute to the team’s efforts to turn around the season.
“It’s great,” Kashia told Pro Soccer USA. “I didn’t expect this high quality environment. I am very happy to be here, and I am pleased to have everything I need here to perform at my best.”
Kashia has spent the last eight seasons in the Netherlands at Vitesse, where he was a fan favorite and popular leader in the locker room. Fellow countryman Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili, who plays with the centerback on Georgia’s national team, was also his club teammate for many years prior to joining the Quakes last summer, and he beamed when asked to describe his good friend.
“Yes, I am really happy he’s with us,” Vako said. “First off, he is a good man, and a good player. He has lots of experience and will be a leader for us. He will bring all of those qualities to our team.”
Kashia is nearly six years Vako’s senior, and he has seen the forward develop quite a bit from his first season with Vitesse. As captain of the Georgia national team, he also took on the responsibility of integrating Vako into the squad at the international level. He hopes to use his experience to help him and the others young Quakes reach their potentials.
“One of the best qualities I have is I like to help those around me, especially the young players,” Kashia said. “Players like Vako, you know, sometimes you have to make sure with such talented players that they’re 100% there with the focus, so I am pushing those players around me because, yeah, I believe that I work hard and that I want everyone around me to have the same vision I have.”
Vako, for his part, was enjoying the opportunity to help Kashia adjust to MLS and moving to America. He has opened his home up to Kashia, providing his friend his spare bedroom while he looks for his own place to stay. And when they are not in training, Vako has introduced him to San Jose and the Bay Area.
“He’s new here, and it’s only been a few days, so I’ve been helping him learn about here,” Vako said. “Give him a week and he will know everything, so he’s good now.”
Kashia made it clear that he valued Vako’s help, and that he has been made to feel a part of the squad from the first moment he stepped into the locker room. He recognizes that the Quakes have a great leader in Wondolowski already wearing the captain’s armband, but he hopes to contribute as much as he can in serving as an inspiration to those around him, especially amongst the defenders.
“I don’t consider myself the type of leader that takes over the group,” Kashia said. “I try to take the initiative on the pitch, to say something to the boys, to help the team, to help the coaches, and that it what I plan to do. I want to show everyone by example before I talk: that is the leadership style that I have.”
He laughed at the idea that he could come into the team and immediately play the role of a general. Instead, his focus is squarely set on learning everything he can about the way his fellow teammates play, as well as preparing himself physically to earn his spot in the starting line-up.
“Obviously, my paperwork took some time, so I was at home these past few weeks working out,” Kashia said. “But it is never enough to perform at the level needed for 90 minutes, so it will probably take some time, perhaps 10 days, to fully get into shape. But you know, I am working hard with the training staff, with the coaching staff, and I want to be ready and as fit as possible so that I can do my best and help the team.”
Kashia didn’t rule out making his Quakes debut in Sunday’s friendly against Manchester United at Levi’s Stadium — he said he’ll be happy to take the field for the first time whenever Stahre sees fit to play him — but it’s likely that the newest member of the team will get to show what he is all about in next week’s MLS games at Avaya Stadium against the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake.