San Jose Earthquakes rookie defender Nick Lima is a tough guy. So tough, he once played a game in high school with a broken foot.
“It was definitely a bad decision because it made it worse,” he said after the Quakes first day of preseason training on Tuesday. “But at the same time, it was in the heat of the moment and, with the adrenaline going, so you play.”
He was also a high school football player who played in all three aspects of the game: running back on offense, defensive back on defense and was the kicker on special teams.
“It was fun because I was always on the field and never came off,” he said.
The 22-year old rookie defender might not have that say of whether or not he’ll stay on the pitch if he gets hurt in his time now with the Quakes, however, it’s good that he’s willing to fight through injuries for his team. That sense of being the reliable one on a team is something he takes pride in as well.
“That’s kind of my mentality. If I can play, then I can play,” Lima said. “Well, if you can play and still provide more for the team than the next guy up and you’re still going to find that extra bonus, then I’m not going to come out. Then it’s on me and they’re still counting on me.”
Lima, San Jose’s second-ever homegrown signing and the latest Bay Area hometown hero on the Quakes – tossing him in with the likes of Chris Wondolowski, David Bingham and Marc Pelosi– has embraced the tough-guy role as a player and, now, the role of the up-and-coming hometown hero.
“Over the past couple of months, having it happen, I’ve had a good amount of time to think about it,” Lima told SBI Soccer, “Even now, I don’t think it’s quite settled in. But it’s a dream come true and I kind of get butterflies talking about it.”
Lima’s Homegrown deal was announced on Dec. 21 and he has since been preparing himself for a possibility to crack the starting XI on the Quakes’ March 4 opening day roster when they host the Montreal Impact.
He grew up and went to high school in nearby Castro Valley before heading to the University of California. In his senior year at Cal in 2016, Lima established himself as one of the best defenders with the Golden Bears, starting in 16 matches, scoring four goals and was named to the NCAA Division I Men’s All-Far West Region team and earned a First-Team All Pac-12 nod. Overall in his four years with Cal, he made 51 starts in 70 appearances and tallied six goals and nine assists.
Lima was a product of the Earthquakes academy and also spent time with San Jose’s USL PDL affiliate Burlingame Dragons FC in 2015 and 2016 while spending some time training with the Quakes’ first team.
He is anything but new to the training grounds at Avaya Stadium.
While Lima adds a sense of toughness to the backline, he also represents another big quality on the Earthquakes roster this year: youth. Lima brought a lot of that young energy that the Quakes seemed to lack throughout last season into his first official day of camp, playing hard and aggressive with his teammates in team drills.
Although it was a quick, simple session to get everyone back in shape and in rhythm, Lima worked confidently and took in a lot in on his first day on the job.
“It was fantastic,” he said. “I woke up this morning, I couldn’t sleep last night, obviously, the first day on the field and there’s anxiety, but it was good. I felt comfortable. Just the first day, a quick session. It was good intensity, but I thought it was a solid first day and something to build off of, that’s for sure.
“Guys are more serious. Obviously, it’s their job. Everything’s quicker, guys are stronger, a little faster and more fit for the most part. But it’s a good jump and I’m excited to make it. I’ve had a few opportunities to play here before so I have a little idea of what to expect coming in.”
He joins a Quakes team that’s had its share of struggles throughout the last four seasons, finishing towards the bottom of the Western Conference table in two of the last three seasons. Lima also brings a needed quality that San Jose needed more of last year: a sense of attack. Or, at least a sense of getting up there with the attack.
The Earthquakes scored a league-low 32 goals in 2016, so they’ll take goals wherever they can find them, even if that means from the backline. Lima says that helping attack from the back is a part of his game.
“I like to play simple out of the back,” he said, “But when the opportunity presents itself I like to get forward and then I, weirdly enough, chase back as well. I just like to run.”
If the first day is a sign of anything, Nick Lima could find himself in the mix to be in the backline and the Starting XI on opening day at Avaya. A lot of that will be based on how he performs in the preseason and all, however, the tough kid from Castro Valley knows that while the opportunity may be there, it won’t be easy, or given.
“I feel there’s a really good possibility to step in and provide help in whatever way that I can,” he said, “If the opportunity presents itself, then I know that I’ll be ready 100 percent and give whatever the coach asks of me and hopefully more and open some eyes. I’m excited for that.”