By Kyle McCarthy
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – San Jose midfielder Joey Gjertsen spent the offseason grappling with his next career move.
The 2006 USL-1 MVP completed his contract with Montreal after the 2009 campaign and needed to decide whether to continue his career in the American second division or make the leap to MLS. The choice wasn't as straightforward for Gjertsen as it might have been for other players in his position. Then again, Gjertsen's path to that fork in the road wasn't as straightforward, either.
Most players travel a fairly predictable route from a major college program to the professional ranks. Gjertsen stopped at a community college and a junior college before eschewing better offers to complete his college career by playing with his older brother, Jason, at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. He scored goals for fun with the Geoducks – fellow alums include “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening and “Seinfeld” star Michael Richards – until someone in Vancouver decided to give him a tryout and a chance to play pro ball. He hired his college coach as his agent. He repeatedly showed through his choices that his priorities didn't necessarily lie with rising through the ranks as quickly as he could.
“It was never important to me to go to the next level,” Gjertsen said. “I wanted to be happy where I was at. But I knew that if I was going to make the jump, being 27 and signing another contract for three years, maybe I wouldn't have the chance when I was 30.”
Gjertsen weighed his options carefully. On the one hand, he could have stayed with Montreal, a club he called “as professional as you can get” and an organization poised to make the leap to MLS sooner rather than later. On the other, he had the nagging sense that he had accomplished just about all he could in the second division between his MVP award in Vancouver, his string of appearances with the Impact in the CONCACAF Champions League and his two USL-1 titles.
In the end, Gjertsen's desire to move somewhere closer to his Tacoma, Wash. home and try his luck in the American top flight won out. With the decision to make the leap to MLS sealed, he needed to find his new club. Gjertsen elicited what he dubbed slight interest from Seattle and visited with Sounders FC while his hometown club prepared for the playoffs last season. San Jose, however, established strong connections with Gjertsen through its assistant coaches – Ian Russell knew Gjertsen from his time in Seattle, while Mark Watson played with Gjertsen in Vancouver – and wanted him more. The Earthquakes eventually captured his signature by exercising a discovery option to secure his rights.
“I think Vancouver was the first time I saw him play, and I liked him from then,” Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop explained after his side's 0-0 draw at New England. “He was under contract then, and it usually costs a little bit too much to try and get these guys from the USL. He was out of contract this year, so I spoke to his agent. We were desperate to get him in. We discovered him to make sure we got him and we brought him in.”
Once he landed in the Bay Area, Gjertsen quickly discovered he would have to adapt in order to thrive at the next level. During his time in the USL, Gjertsen either scored goals or created them for others. He played centrally more often than not, sometimes as an attacking midfielder and other times as an out-and-out striker. When Yallop brought him into the fold, he introduced Gjertsen to a different role on the wing and asked him to play a two-way game.
“Outside mid is new to me,” Gjertsen said. “I'm just kind of doing what I'm told.”
If Gjertsen's performances are any indication, he listens well. Gjertsen entered the starting XI prior to San Jose's second game of the season – a 2-1 win in Chicago on Apr. 10 – and hasn't left the team since. As he continues to adjust to the new role, Gjertsen said he's relyingfavora on Chris Leitch and Joe Cannon to keep him in line and learning the nuances of his new position with each passing game.
Gjertsen's approach to his duties – a combination of attacking intent, constant industry and defensive attentiveness – evokes memories of Earthquake right midfielders past like Houston's Brian Mullan and Russell. Chipping in with the odd goal like he did in last Saturday's 4-0 win over New York and offering balance to Bobby Convey's enterprise on the left side will ensure those comparisons continue.
“I don't think he was ever really not going to be good enough for this league, but he's done a nice job of making sure he's staying in the team,” Yallop said. “He's done really well.”
So has his new team. As he basks in the Earthquakes' early season success, Gjertsen said he made the right decision to test himself in MLS.
“I'm definitely happy with the way things have worked out,” Gjertsen said. “I think our successful start has helped. I'm completely happy in San Jose. I wouldn't change it.”
Week Eight – Questions, Thoughts and Answers
Star Man – Alvaro Saborio, Real Salt Lake forward
The Costa Rican international earns the weekly gong courtesy of his two goals and his menacing shift as the focal point of the RSL attack in Thursday's 3-1 victory over Houston.
The Weekend XI
1. FC Dallas midfielder Brek Shea flashed his considerable talent as he notched his first MLS goal in FCD's 1-1 draw at Philadelphia. Shea controlled Atiba Harris' feed with his left foot, cut inside his defender with a tidy touch and lashed home into the upper right corner with his right foot. In order for Shea to continue his development and meet those lofty expectations, moments like this one need to appear more consistently.
2. On a day when Kevin Hartman thwarted Philadelphia time after time, the Union knew it would take something special to beat the veteran FCD keeper. Danny Mwanga provided it with a rasping first-time volley in stoppage time to earn the Union the point its performance deserved. “I was definitely in the perfect spot,” Mwanga told the Philadelphia Inquirer after he located some free space in the penalty area behind the scrum of players vying for Shea Salinas' service from the right wing.
3. The key for both San Jose and New England in Saturday night's 0-0 draw at Gillette Stadium: keeping things tight at the back. San Jose's renaissance started with Jason Hernandez's return to health and the Earthquakes' return to stout defensive form this season. After blanking the Revolution, Frank Yallop's side hasn't conceded in three consecutive matches. New England didn't boast a similarly stingy record heading into the contest, but the Revs did stop the defensive rot by cutting out errors and imposing their will defensively in order to post their second clean sheet of the season.
4. Columbus can't afford to pass the way it did on Saturday night and expect to win games consistently. Guillermo Barros Schelotto's 90th minute penalty and Gino Padula's pair of goalline clearances handed the Crew a 1-0 victory over Chivas USA, but the Crew – and Padula, in particular – exhibited uncharacteristic wastefulness in possession.
5. Barros Schelotto's late elbow to Michael Umana should provoke a discussion or two at league headquarters this week. The referee appeared to miss it, but the cameras caught a good look at the Argentine's rather cynical off-the-ball elbow to the Costa Rican defender. Chivas USA will ask why Barros Schelotto was even on the field to take the penalty correctly awarded when Justin Braun wrestled Chad Marshall to the ground. Then again, the Crew wouldn't be out of place to suggest Umana should have picked up his second yellow card halfway through the first half for an intentional handball to stop a Columbus counterattack. Guess it all worked out about square, all things considered.
6. Tough luck for D.C. United on the only goal in Colorado's 1-0 victory at RFK Stadium. The referee waved play on after an apparent foul at midfield by Wells Thompson on Rodney Wallace. The advantage call permitted Mehdi Ballouchy to tuck an effort through Juan Manuel Pena's legs and catch Bill Hamid unaware at his near post to decide the game. D.C. probably didn't deserve more than a draw from the match and may not have even merited that much, but it's tough to concede a goal like that to give away points at home.
7. It figured to take a touch of class to decide a rather listless affair between Seattle and New York and Sounders FC substitute Fredy Montero provided it in his side's 1-0 victory at Red Bull Arena. Montero drifted away from Mike Petke, took a couple of deft touches to corral Brad Evans' ball over the top and coolly slotted past Bouna Coundoul to give Seattle the response it desperately craved. Is it enough to patch over Montero's indifferent performances to date? No, but it is enough, perhaps, to get Sounders FC back on the right track ahead of San Jose's visit next Saturday.
8. “I’m sure Fredy wasn’t happy sitting in the bench,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid told the News-Tribune after Montero made his influential 12-minute cameo. “And it’s not a secret he wants to be out on the field, he wants to play. But I think he came in and he battled and he fought right away. And he has that ability, that little bit of skill, that little bit of calm at the key moment, and he finished a great goal. It was a great ball by Brad and a great goal.”
9. Kei Kamara notched the early front runner for most cathartic goal of the season when he tapped home his second goal of the game from close range to give Kansas City a 2-2 draw with Chicago. Kamara, as anyone who frequents YouTube or follows Internet chatter will know, missed a sitter under similar circumstances three weeks ago in a 0-0 draw against Los Angeles. “It’s kind of a blessing to have a do-over not even a month apart,” Kamara told the Kansas City Star.
10. Los Angeles can blame Toronto FC's stubborn midfield resistance for its 0-0 draw on Saturday night. Preki named a defensive-minded group of four – Sam Cronin on the right, Martin Saric (in for the injured Julian de Guzman) and Amadou Sanyang in the middle and Nick LaBrocca on the left – to congest the proceedings and stop the Galaxy on the counter. TFC accomplished its mission as a pair of anonymous displays from Chris Birchall and Juninho and a workmanlike performance from the Reds' midfield limited Los Angeles' ability to move the ball around and spread out the visitors' resolute shape. In order to break TFC down, the Galaxy needed crisp movement and viable options in the wide areas. For the majority of the night, it didn't happen
11. The Galaxy perked up a bit in the second half and started to use the wide areas enough to generate some chances. Unfortunately for the home side, Stefan Frei did his part to keep TFC's clean sheet and seal the Reds' first away point of the campaign. After repelling Edson Buddle's long-distance drive earlier, Frei's stunning double save in stoppage time – the initial stop on Mike Magee and the “how did he do that?” kick save on Todd Dunivant's rebound attempt – protected the point TFC deserved.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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