SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The San Jose Earthquakes never had any official discussions over which players might take a penalty kick if the team earned one while star forward Chris Wondolowski is with the US national team at the Gold Cup.
When the situation came to pass Saturday night, Victor Bernardez brought a swift end to any debate.
Bernardez, serving as the Quakes’ captain in Wondolowski’s absence, immediately took control of the ball after Shea Salinas drew a 55th-minute penalty against the Portland Timbers on Saturday.
Belying his renown for bombing 40-yard free kicks, the bruising center back deftly slotted home his first goal of the season to kick off the scoring in San Jose’s 2-1 win.
“Ultimately, there’s a few guys you have in mind, but you want the guy who has the confidence to step up and grab the ball,” Quakes interim coach Mark Watson said. “That’s the guy you want taking the penalty, so we had no problem with Victor grabbing the ball.”
It was Bernardez’s first penalty-kick goal since April 16, 2011, when he scored from the spot for Lierse against KV Mechelen in the Belgian Pro League’s Europa League playoffs.
“I felt very confident,” Bernardez said through the translation of a team official. “The coach gave me confidence and it always feels good when the coach is behind you. I just hit it well and finished it.”
Prior to Saturday, Wondolowski had taken 13 of the Quakes’ 14 penalties from the 2010 season onwards, making 10 of them. The only other PK taker in that timeframe was Khari Stephenson, who fired home against the Galaxy on May 23, 2012 – when Wondolowski was also on US duty. The last time Wondolowski was on the pitch for San Jose and didn’t step up to the spot was Oct. 3, 2009, when Ryan Johnson – now a Timbers stalwart – converted against New York.
Bernardez eschewed his usual power rip and used a bit of finesse to beat Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. With Ricketts diving to his left, Bernardez simply guided the ball in the opposite direction, keeping it low to the ground so there was no chance of skying it over the crossbar.
“He took it well,” San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch said. “In training, when he’s taking free kicks, he usually just hits it as hard as he can and tries to kill the keeper. So I was feeling for Donovan a little bit there, because I thought he might try to make Donovan eat the ball.”
Said Watson: “He’s got the composure. Before he hit it, we were kind of discussing which option he’d go for, and he went for the real composed option in the side corner.”
Bernardez said the tactical shift was needed because he and Ricketts have long crossed paths in international play – he for Honduras, Ricketts for Jamaica.
“I thought if I hit it hard, he would know that,” Bernardez said. “So I tried to change it up and hit it differently, because he knows me so well.”