In a year where so many things have gone wrong for the San Jose Earthquakes, they can draw some modicum of comfort knowing at least one thing went very right.
Highly coveted rookie goalkeeper David Bingham, who fell to the Quakes by sheer luck in a weighted lottery, made his regular-season debut last Saturday against the New England Revolution.
In just his second professional match, Bingham proved that the hype surrounding him was not without merit, helping San Jose to a 2-1 victory. The former All-American from Cal turned aside four of five New England shots, gobbled up oodles of crosses and delivered an exclamation point in the form of a soaring, 75-yard assist on Chris Wondolowski’s opening goal.
It was an impressive performance for a guy who – outside of Reserve League games – hadn’t played a full 90 minutes since the Golden Bears were ousted from the NCAA Tournament by eventual champion Akron on Dec. 4, 2010.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Bingham told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “I was pleased [San Jose’s coaches] trusted me enough to put me in. Hopefully, I showed I can play and maybe get a couple more looks this year.”
The Quakes lucked into getting Bingham, who was rated by most observers on a par with fellow Generation Adidas 'keeper Zac MacMath. While MacMath went to the Philadelphia Union with the fifth pick in the 2011 MLS Superdraft – 10 spots ahead of San Jose’s selection – Bingham signed his deal too late for inclusion in the process. The Quakes won the ensuing lottery for his rights despite having an 8.8 percent chance of doing so.
It was a tailor-made outcome for soccer writers seeking an angle and ticket salesmen looking for a hometown hero, but the top-notch play of incumbent starter Jon Busch kept Bingham on the sidelines until the Quakes were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention last week.
“It’s extremely difficult, especially for [me],” said Bingham, whose only previous first-team Quakes experience was 45 minutes in a friendly with EPL side West Bromwich Albion. “Reserve games are great, but they’re not the same thing as a [regular-season] game. ... You only get so much from practice, especially for young goalies. You need to get first-team games.”
At 6-foot-2, Bingham’s game is in some ways the opposite of that played by the 5-10 Busch, who utilizes uncanny reflexes to parry opposing shots. Bingham tries to short-circuit those opportunities before they occur by coming off his line and putting his height advantage to its best use.
The rookie, who turns 22 next week, praised his defense for a “phenomenal” performance and was generally pleased with his own evening.
“There were a couple of situations where I took a step or two out that I shouldn’t have,” said Bingham, who had no chance to scramble back on Benny Feilhaber’s scissoring volley of a goal, having made a sprawling save on Ryan Guy moments earlier. “There was definitely a little bit of rustiness there, but I tried to hide it. I think for how little game time I’ve got that I did really well.”
One of Bingham’s biggest strengths was in distribution; coming out far off the goal line repeatedly put him in position to hurl passes at teammates gearing up for a counterattack.
Bingham also showed that his booming leg – which victimized his West Brom counterpart Boaz Myhill on an infamous, bounding goal from 90 yards – was no fluke. His pass on Saturday found a streaking Wondolowski, who brought it down in stride and finished past ‘keeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
“It definitely caught them off guard,” said Bingham, who said he’s been able to go box-to-box for several years. “It’s an advantage for us that the ball can go from the 6 [yard box] to 20 yards off the opposing goal in a matter of seconds. It has its benefits.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow@sjquakes