SAN JOSE, Calif. – With the US national team crashing out of qualifying for this summer’s World Cup, American fans will have plenty of options to select from in terms of picking a new team to watch.
For San Jose Earthquakes die-hards, the choice might be a surprisingly easy one: Concacaf rivals Panama, for which Quakes midfielder Anibal Godoy has been a mainstay since debuting in 2010.
Godoy has earned 86 caps for his country, and along with fellow MLS stalwart Roman Torres of Seattle Sounders FC, he’s expected to help form the spine of a team that will make its World Cup finals debut against Belgium – currently sitting fifth in FIFA’s world rankings – in Sochi on June 18.
“Anibal Godoy is as fundamental a player here as he is for the national team and our head coach,” said Quakes defender Harold Cummings, who is bidding to join Godoy on the Panamanian roster this summer. “He’s a player that helps us as much in defense as he does in attack, and we have to take advantage of that, because he helps us.”
Godoy wants to take advantage of his time in San Jose before joining Panama, who face a tough task to get out of Group G, which also features England and Tunisia.
“I think if things go well for me here and I play well here, it’s going to go well for me with the national team,” Godoy said.
Godoy has been a critical piece of the Quakes’ puzzle since arriving in 2015; San Jose lost only once in his 10 appearances that season. But the 28-year-old has been finding his way in a new partnership in the center of the park with Florian Jungwirth, who played almost exclusively as a center back last season.
“We’re starting to play together the past couple of games,” Godoy said. “We can find more [philosophical common ground] on the field. This competitiveness inside the team – we have good players on the team like Jackson [Yueill] and [Luis] Felipe, so when we’re training, we’re always trying to trying to do our best.”
First-year coach Mikael Stahre sees the left-footer as more than just an adjunct to his backline. In a 1-1 tie against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, it was Jungwirth who often dropped back between Cummings and fellow center back Yeferson Quintana while Godoy stayed higher up the pitch.
“Godoy, for me is not just a typical No. 6 for me,” Stahre said. “He’s like a No. 8, more box-to-box. I think he has performed well so far, but I think both him and me, we expect even more.”
Godoy, who often plays in a more advanced role for Panama, is comfortable in the middle of the action.
“I try to play box-to-box,” Godoy said. “I like to get to the 18. I like to score goals and I also like to help the team defensively. It’s a hard job for me to get from box to box, but I know I have to prepare myself for that.”
Wherever he pops up on the field, Godoy always brings a sense of calm on the ball, often turning in close quarters to open up new avenues of attack.
“I think that his composure is amazing,” Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski said of Godoy. “And if you look at his passes, they’re passes that help break down a defense. There’s people that connect passes that go backwards and sideways and don’t help a team break down a defense. His passes help beat two, three, four guys. Those don’t go in stat sheets or scoreboxes, but those are very important things and kind of go under the radar.”
Even though Jungwirth is the demonstrative sort, he isn’t alone in trying to coordinate San Jose’s shape. Godoy does plenty of communicating of his own.
“He’s talking, he’s organizing. He’s definitely our general out there,” Wodolowski said of Godoy. “Even though Flo might be more animated, [Godoy] is more of our general, and we listen. When his words are said, we listen. It’s a good thing to have and it’s very important.”