SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Jason Hernandez last played for the San Jose Earthquakes in 2014. But the impact left by the New York City FC defender still looms large with the Quakes’ fan base.
Midway through NYCFC’s first-ever visit to Avaya Stadium -- and Hernandez’s return to the Bay Area after joining the expansion team last year – the Quakes’ leading supporters group unveiled a banner to mark Hernandez’s seven years of yeomanly service following San Jose’s rebirth as an MLS side in 2008.
“Forever in our hearts,” the sign read in part. “Jason -- one of us.”
“Honestly, that’s the closest I’ve been to crying on a field,” Hernandez said after NYCFC held on for a scoreless draw against San Jose. “As a defender, your name doesn’t get called out a lot -- especially not in a good way. So to have the supporters show me that appreciation was really cool.”
Hernandez and the other members of NYCFC’s back line -- R.J. Allen, Frederic Brillant and Maxime Chanot -- kept their collective cool even as San Jose relentlessly pounded on the door. The hosts launched 19 shots and collected a season-high nine corner kicks, using high pressure to help knock NYCFC off-stride and hem them inside their half of the field.
“I think tonight we probably defended a little more than we wanted to,” Hernandez said. “For the most part during the season, we’ve been able to dictate the tempo of games. Tonight, San Jose made it tough on us. That’s their MO; they’re going to work their socks off and make it difficult for anyone who’s coming in here to play.”
Hernandez should know, having made 165 appearances for the Quakes -- still fifth on the club’s all-time list -- in their old home of Buck Shaw Stadium. Seeing Avaya Stadium in person was “the most surreal experience” for the 32-year-old, who also renewed his acquaintance with old friend Chris Wondolowski. Hernandez marked Wondolowski on set pieces, and the pair even earned a talking-to from referee Ricardo Salazar during one first-half stoppage.
“He’s obviously a great player, a legendary player,” Hernandez said. “I’m just glad he didn’t get on the board tonight. . . . That [battle] probably happened 300 times over the years in training. Tonight was no different.”
Keeping the clean sheet -- NYCFC’s first in five matches -- allowed the club to pull four points clear of Toronto FC atop the Eastern Conference. Hernandez and Co. blocked seven shots, and goalkeeper Josh Saunders had four saves, a couple of them in spectacular fashion.
“Analyzing the game, to not give up a goal, our back four and our keeper had to perform well,” NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira said. “And I was really pleased with our performance. Coming in here, we didn’t play our best football, but on the other side, we defended really well.”