With consistency comes responsibility: Shea Salinas emerges as San Jose Earthquakes' go-to playmaker

Shea Salinas in CCL action vs. Heredia

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The San Jose Earthquakes have only played four matches so far this season, but there’s been a noticeable trend. Regardless of network or opponent, nearly every television analyst covering the Quakes has made a comment along the lines of, “This is the best I’ve ever seen Shea Salinas play.”

Salinas would offer one slight correction.

“I don’t think it’s the best soccer that I’ve ever played,” the San Jose winger told MLSsoccer.com this week. “I’ve had really good games in the past, it’s just that have had a hard time putting back-to-back-to-back games together. So I would say this is the most consistent soccer I’ve ever played.”

Certainly, Salinas has been the biggest constant in the Quakes’ attack thus far in 2014. Of San Jose’s five goals in all competitions, Salinas has delivered an assist on four of them, all from dead-ball situations. And in the run of play, he’s been one of the Quakes’ most dangerous players, stalking defenders from the left wing.

“I thought he was very effective last season, and I think he’s carried that into this season,” Quakes coach Mark Watson told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s a wide player, and he’s great taking defenders on. A big thing for us is getting him in that situation as much as possible, and when he does, he’s very hard to stop.”

Said teammate Sam Cronin: “One-v-one, attacking-wise, he’s been carving people up for the full 90 minutes and getting good service in. So he’s been fantastic.”

It looks like the start to a third straight year of solid performances for Salinas, a 27-year-old who rejoined San Jose -- his original MLS organization -- prior to the club’s record-setting 72-goal haul of 2012. Salinas had seven assists that year, then notched eight more, with two goals, last season -- even as San Jose’s offense struggled to match the output from their run to the Supporters’ Shield.

Proof of Salinas’ new status has come in the form of greater attention. Teams that may not have worried in the past when Salinas took possession are now sending multiple players to pry the ball loose before he can do serious damage.

“When I’m over on the coaches’ side [of the field], I can kind of hear the coach telling whoever the right midfielder is to cheat back on me a little bit, so there’s two guys back there,” Salinas said. “It’s something I’m going to have to adapt to and figure out what to do. I think right now, they’re trying to cut off the cutback and me cutting in with my right foot. Fortunately, I can still go line and cross the ball with my left foot.”

Salinas, who bounced from San Jose to Philadelphia to Vancouver before landing back with the Quakes, said a key aspect to finding consistency of late has been developing and increasing his ability to mentally shrug off a subpar performance.

“I used to try to find my identity in how well I played,” Salinas explained. “So if I played a good game, I’d be really happy, and if I played a bad game, I’d be really down on myself. I’ve kind of put my identity in other things, so it’s not so much of a roller-coaster ride when I come off the soccer field. I think that’s helped a whole lot.”

Foremost on that list of “other things” is Salinas’ Christian faith. Salinas cited Proverbs 21:31 -- “The horse is prepared for the day of battle. But victory belongs to the Lord” -- to help explain his ability to keep from worrying if a promising attack is cut short or a quality delivery doesn’t lead to a goal-scoring opportunity.

“Before a game, I used to focus, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to cross the ball really well. I’ve got to defend hard. I’ve got to be sharp,’” Salinas said. “Now I approach a game knowing that the only thing I can control, really, is how hard I work. Everything else is kind of in God’s hands. I can’t really control if I cross the ball well or not. I try to cross it well every time, but I don’t know if it’s going to be a great cross or not. I kind of just depend on God in those areas a little more. The only thing I can control is how hard I work, so that’s what I’ve focused on a lot lately.”