Photo by Michael Janosz/ISIPhotos.com
BY ADAM SERRANO
The San Jose Earthquakes have fluctuated as a franchise since the time the club re-entered MLS in 2008 and defender Jason Hernandez has been there for every twist and turn in the Bay Area.
Hernandez anchored the Earthquakes defense that defeated the New York Red Bulls and advanced to the Eastern Conference Final against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday(9:30pm ET, FSC). As the last
of the 2007 Expansion Draft class left on the team, Hernandez has seen the evolution of the club from Western Conference doormat to the brink of the MLS Cup Final.
"We've had an us against the world mentality and it's been like that since day one, " said Hernandez. "To start something from scratch and to have build up to where we are now where we are competing for MLS Cup is something that I'm very pleased with and I'm going to fight to the end to keep it going."
Joining the club from Chivas USA, Hernandez has been seen an Earthquakes squad that has been in a constant rebuilding process. Hernandez immediately earned a starting role with the club that led to an appearance in the annual U.S. January training camp in 2009. Battling back from an ankle injury that cost him much of the 2009 season, Hernandez has been a staple for the Quakes defense and likely captain the club on Saturday.
At the end of the 2010 season, Hernandez has lined up alongside Brandon McDonald since a season ending injury to rookie Ike Opara and the pair have become a talented tandem. Despite the changes in defensive partnerships, the Earthquakes conceded the sixth-best mark in the league in 2010, allowing just 32 goals. During the past three years, the Quakes have witnessed Hernandez's development from youngster to one of the most stable defenders in MLS.
"I've seen a real maturation of Jason over the three years that we've had him, he's become one of the team leaders and a good teammate and leader in the locker room and that's been his growing up," said Yallop. "He's a winner as well he doesn't like losing and I think that all of those attributes have developed him into a good defender in our team and our league."
The Earthquakes are extremely familiar with Colorado having split the season series with the Rapids — both clubs winning 1-0 at home — and having faced off in England during the preseason. The familiarity looks to come in handy as the Earthquakes focus on stopping the Rapids tandem of Omar Cummings and Conor Casey.
Combining for 27 of the Rapids 37 total goals in 2010, the pair are the focal point of the Colorado attack. Cummings and Casey were an integral part in leading the Rapids to their victory over the Crew to allow the Rapids to host the Eastern Conference Final.
The Quakes have enjoyed some success in 2010 as one of only three teams that did not allow the pair a goal this season during their series with Colorado. Despite any success during the season, handling the pair remains the highest priority for the Quakes to advance to the Cup Final.
"We expect that they will have be pressing forward to put us on our heels and what we've been good at is to withstand that pressure and then exploiting the space on the counter," said Hernandez. "
Although the Quakes sit a win away from the MLS Cup Final, Hernandez believes that the club has not received the respect that it has deserved. An underdog against the Red Bulls, the Quakes expect to be the underdog on the road against the Rapids despite holding a 7-4-5 record on the road in MLS play in 2010.
In the final four as the lowest seed, Hernadez expects to use the "us against the world" mentality to push the hungry young team to Toronto.
"Our mentality comes from not necessarily being in the big markets or having the media attention and being in the kind of environment where people over look you helps you rise to the occasion," said Hernandez. "The San Jose franchise has experienced had success, but a majority of the guys are hungry and looking to establish themselves. It's a collective effort and we're looking to fight for one another till the very end."