Maxwell Griffin should have no problem remembering the date of his MLS debut.
Fresh off a loan deal that brought him from Orlando City of the USL Pro Division to the San Jose Earthquakes late last week, Griffin came on in the 83rd minute of the Quakes’ 2-1 loss to Houston on Saturday.
While Griffin, a UCLA product with 28 career goals for the Bruins, didn’t score, just getting on the field was a pretty nice way to commemorate the fact that it was his 24th birthday.
“It was just excitement, pure excitement,” said Griffin, who spent two weeks in February training with the Quakes. “I was happy to come back to this organization. I learned a lot when I was here.”
San Jose (6-11-11) have learned a lot about themselves in the meantime, including the fact that they need to get faster on the attack to provide a complement to the aerial prowess (when healthy and available) of players such as Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon and the clinical finishing of Chris Wondolowski.
With Scott Sealy hampered by injury and Cornell Glen given the boot last winter, the 2011 Quakes have lacked a forward who can unnerve opponents with their ability to outrun defenses.
“[Griffin] does have speed,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “He knows how to get behind defenses, and we don’t have that. ... We’ve just got to work on his running — when and where to run. The big thing for me is he does have an eye for goal.”
That eye helped Griffin rank high on the USL Pro leaderboards this season, tallying nine times in 22 games with Orlando City, which took the league’s inaugural championship with a shootout victory against Harrisburg City in the final on Sept. 3.
“I feel like I’m the striker that gets in behind the defense a lot, creates chances, [and is] moving without the ball,” Griffin said. “Obviously, my goal coming in off the bench is trying to be as dangerous as possible, create as many runs as I can. Hopefully that brings goals.”
With the Quakes’ playoff chances realistically squashed, Griffin has a chance to make his case for inclusion in the team’s 2012 plans, as the loan deal includes an option for San Jose to buy his rights from Orlando City.
“The most challenging thing is just making a good impression, doing the things they want me to do: holding the ball up, getting to the right spaces and eventually scoring the ball,” Griffin said.
While Griffin is slated to appear on the game-day roster for San Jose’s match at Portland on Wednesday (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), don’t expect him to start the contest in favor of Wondolowski.
“We’re not out of the playoffs,” Yallop said. “We’ve got to give it everything we have until we get [mathematically] eliminated, not just chucking three or four [inexperienced] guys in there. At some point, I want to see these young guys, but they should all get to play with the actual [first] unit, not just five or six at one time.”
In the meantime, Griffin can polish his game by watching the reigning Golden Boot winner in training.
“It’s amazing,” Griffin said. “I feel like I can earn so much from [Wondolowski]. Obviously, he’s a world-class finisher. The older guys that I look up to, I want to get as much knowledge as I can. That’s what I’m here to do, is learn.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes