San Jose Earthquakes defender Jason Hernandez shines in emotional New Jersey homecoming

The last time Jason Hernandez was in New Jersey, he was there to say goodbye to his father. At the age of 56, the last 14 of those years spent battling cancer, Joe Hernandez passed away on May 16.

On Saturday night, Jason – wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the message “Joe’s son” under his jersey – made just his fourth league start of the season and delivered a pair of goal-line clearances to help his San Jose Earthquakes steal a critical road point in a 1-1 tie against the New York Red Bulls.

“It felt great to be back here, to be back home,” Hernandez told CSN California after the game. “I always try to give a special effort when I’m back home, and I feel very fortunate to have put a good defensive effort in tonight and get away with a result.”

Hernandez, sidelined for more than two months with a strained left quadriceps suffered in the season opener, stepped in Saturday for the dinged-up Clarence Goodson as an estimated 15 to 20 family members looked on from the stands at Red Bull Arena.

“Jason was really big for us tonight,” Quakes coach Mark Watson told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “And you know what? I wasn’t surprised. He’s the type of guy that, whenever he’s asked to play, he gives you 100 percent and scraps and fights. His overall play was very good, very competitive.

“He had to play against two very, very good players in [Bradley] Wright-Phillips and [Thierry] Henry, as well as seeing some good movement from midfield. I thought he dealt with it well.”

The 30-year-old came to the rescue in the 31st minute after Wright-Phillips, MLS’s leading scorer, had walked through the Quakes’ backline and collected Henry’s pass to set up a one-on-one situation against San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch. Wright-Phillips lifted his shot over the sliding Busch and it looked to be floating towards the far post when Hernandez leaned down to head the ball to safety.

“It was a bit of a breakdown in our box,” Hernandez said. “I saw Buschy try to close the angle. Wright-Phillips has been great in the box, a good goal scorer, and I knew he was going to try to flick it over him, so I just tried to get into a good spot. It’s not the first time I’ve gotten to do that for the Quakes. You can count on me being there. I’m glad it went to me.”

Unfortunately for the Quakes, the ensuing corner kick led to New York’s goal after Steven Lenhart was deemed to have struck the ball with his upraised left arm. But Lenhart gave San Jose new life with a nifty 85th-minute strike, and the Quakes had to withstand a late flurry from the Red Bulls to break their four-game losing streak.

The defining play in that stretch came from Hernandez in the 88th minute. After Lloyd Sam’s initial shot was blocked by Victor Bernardez, the rebound popped high into the air. Sam reached it first, just before a sprinting Busch arrived – but Hernandez coolly trapped the lunging attempt with his stomach before hammering the ball out of danger.

“On those goal-line clearances, he just never lets a play go,” Watson said. “He was in the right spot at the right time, kept us in the game and gave us a chance, ultimately, to get a point out of it.”