SAN JOSE, Calif. – It might have taken a while, but Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi’s true introduction to his new fan base in San Jose was worth the wait.
Pierazzi, signed by the Earthquakes in the winter, started each of San Jose’s first four league matches this season, but he hardly looked like the man who captained a gritty AC Ajaccio side to France’s top league.
As it turned out, a foot injury was hampering his effectiveness, and the 28-year-old sat out four of the next five matches. Paired with attack-minded Khari Stephenson upon his return, Pierazzi has finally looked like the player San Jose thought he could be when they talked him up as a potential box-to-box threat.
And at no point was that more evident than in his first MLS goal – a 35-yard blast – last week to help beat FC Dallas 2-1 for San Jose’s first road win of 2014 (WATCH it here).
“This is the kind of a goal you score once in a career, and it’s a great way to start my goalscoring tally for the Earthquakes,” Pierazzi said this week in French through a team interpreter. “I’m just happy now. The team’s winning again, which is a great moment to show the fans, and I’m in a good moment now.”
Perhaps the greatest evidence of Pierazzi’s ascendance is that it has pushed Sam Cronin – last year’s team MVP for the Quakes with 34 appearances and a team-high 2,971 minutes – to the bench, at least for the moment.
“The period of acclimation, it’s real, and there’s so many factors when you change countries,” Quakes coach Mark Watson said. “It just I think it took him a little bit of time. He’s been here five months. He’s gotten to know how we do things. He’s gotten to know the players. I think his comfort level with what we do is reflected in his play.”
There’s been an instant comfort level working with Stephenson, as well. Where the early pairing of Cronin and Pierazzi seemed disjointed, the new look in the middle of the Quakes’ 4-1-4-1 is paying instant dividends.
“It’s almost like we’ve been playing for two or three years together, after the first match, because we just had a synergy,” Pierazzi said. “We just understood what they were doing. We attacked together, we defended together, and there’s just a good understanding there from the first moment, and it’s worked out really well right now.”
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Said Watson: “[Pierazzi] and Khari have very complementary qualities. Obviously, Khari likes to go forward, and Jean-Baptiste is very comfortable when he does that and just seals off that space in front of the back four.”
Cronin could be called upon as soon as Saturday, however. Watson said Wednesday that Stephenson’s status was up in the air after having to come off with an ankle knock in the 70th minute against Dallas. A team spokesman, contacted Friday, would say only that the Jamaican was still considered questionable for Saturday’s match at Toronto FC (4 pm ET; MLS Live in US, TSN/RDS2 in Canada).