SAN JOSE, Calif. — With their options at full back dwindling, the San Jose Earthquakes made a move to bolster their defense today, acquiring Kevin Partida on a season-long loan from their USL affiliate Reno 1868 FC.
Partida was a third round selection of the Earthquakes in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, but when he didn’t make the team in preseason, he was signed by Reno. While on a short-term agreement earlier this week, he started at right back in the Quakes’ U.S. Open Cup loss at the Portland Timbers, impressing head coach Mikael Stahre.
“I must say that Partida did well,” Stahre told Pro Soccer USA. “He was able to step in and do really well in that position with our defense.”
Partida, 23, stayed on in San Jose following the midweek Open Cup game, and now, as a full fledged member of the team, is eligible to play for the Earthquakes in league play. With a game against Los Angeles FC tonight, and regular full back Shea Salinas out injured, Partida is in line to potentially make his MLS debut.
“Yeah, I am definitely looking forward to it,” Partida told Pro Soccer USA. “Just the idea, the thought of getting two games in four days under my belt and making two debuts, away from home and at home, would be awesome.”
The Sparks native wasn’t a starter in Reno to begin the USL season, but he eventually was given his shot when the team struggled to find a rhythm. Partida made his professional debut as a substitute against Timbers 2 in late April, and he earned his first start a week later. Since Partida entered the lineup, Reno has played nine games without a defeat.
“I’ve been playing in the defensive midfielder role for Reno in those last nine games there,” Partida said. “Wherever the coach sees me fit in best here, I’ll be ready. He watches the characteristics of every player and sets them up to perform at their very best.”
With the Earthquakes’ greatest need at full back, especially with Shea Salinas unavailable due to injury, Stahre is eyeing that role for Partida. He would likely slot in at right back, just as he played in Portland. Nick Lima, San Jose’s regular right back, could switch to the left side if Stahre decides to insert Partida into the lineup.
“This is definitely a position we are struggling with,” Stahre said, “so of course, with Shea out, left back will be a position we have to solve.”
Partida played almost exclusively in the midfield during his collegiate career at UNLV, but he also spent time as a defender in his time in the USL’s Premier Development League, first with the Burlingame Dragons and then with FC Tucson. His coach with the Dragons, Eric Bucchere, recalled the special talent he had to work with.
“His skillset is that he has a really good engine,” Bucchere told Pro Soccer USA. “He can run forever and will be in the top level covering the field. He has a great first step and is MLS level quick, for sure, and his feet are really good.”
Bucchere, CEO of Path2Pro Soccer, an organization that holds player combines for aspiring professionals, again crossed paths with Partida last year, when Partida reached out and asked to join the upcoming San Francisco combine. Bucchere didn’t hesitate to extend to him an invitation to the event, and in front of more than 20 scouts from around the USL and MLS, including Earthquakes’ head of scouting Bruno Costa, Partida impressed. He was drafted by San Jose a few weeks later.
“Kevin showed he can play that left back role,” Bucchere said. “When you have a guy that is a center midfielder, like Kevin, who is super athletic, they have great feet. They’re used to going both directions, and so he can do it.”
While Partida did not do enough in the Quakes’ preseason to earn a contract, he did enough to impress the coaching staff that they wanted to see him continue his development in Reno. For his part, Partida took what could have been a disappointing turn of events and turned it into a motivational moment that has seen his hard work in Reno allow him to reach MLS.
“The message was always to keep performing well,” Partida said. “To take advantage of my opportunities, more than anything. There will be a time when it comes, so you have to be ready.”
Listed at 5’8”, Partida is a bit smaller than a typical central midfielder, but with the right teammates around him, he could flourish in that role. His play so far in Reno is reminiscent of what former Earthquakes midfielder Rafael Baca, another undersized player, brought to San Jose back in 2011-13, and Bucchere believes Partida can find success as a midfielder and defender.
“He is a really good passer, and he gets a lot of assists that way,” Bucchere said. “And at outside back, he can certainly do it. He is athletic enough to hold his own. He can dice guys up on the dribble, too, so he’s a really well-rounded player.”
Should Partida earn his first MLS start today against LAFC, the rookie might also be able to bring something to a team that is desperately in need of boost: a winning attitude.
“He definitely helped turn the team around at Reno,” Bucchere said. “He wasn’t starting, wasn’t playing, when they inserted him in the lineup and since then, they have been on a great run. He has been a catalyst for them. It doesn’t always translate in the data, but he is a winner. He finds a way to make those second effort plays, hustle plays, being in the right spot at the right time, never giving up on the play, he is such a competitive, hard working guy, your team just does better when he is on the field. He find a way to win, and he can do that at any level.”