SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Taken by itself, the play Victor Bernárdez made in the 81st minute was a huge reason why the San Jose Earthquakes held on for a 1-0 victory against the New England Revolution on Saturday night.
The sequence began with Revs midfielder Lee Nguyen blocking and recovering a clearance attempt by Quakes center back Justin Morrow as San Jose tried to make Chris Wondolowski’s 15th-minute goal stand up. Nguyen drove to the end line and looked up, hoping to find lurking menace Benny Feilhaber peeling in from the far side.
WATCH: Bernárdez snuffs out Nguyen's cross
Bernárdez, a 29-year-old Honduran international who signed with the Quakes this offseason, sniffed out the danger, inserting himself between Nguyen and Feilhaber and diverting the ball for goalkeeper Jon Busch to scoop up.
Yet perhaps even more important than Bernárdez’s actions was his composure during the situation. There was never a moment in which he seemed flustered by the quickly unfolding events. And his delivery to Busch was soft enough that there was no danger of an own goal, even though it took place inside the Quakes’ own six-yard box.
“I just anticipated the ball, stepped in front of it and made the play,” Bernárdez said through a translator. “I’m very happy that the team has confidence in me, the coach has confidence in me and I’m playing up to my standards.”
Those standards are set pretty high. Before joining San Jose this winter, Bernárdez was on the books at Belgian powerhouse Anderlecht, and he logged 90 minutes of World Cup action with Honduras in 2010 after appearing in 10 of his country’s qualifying matches.
That big-time resume was something that appealed to a San Jose team in need of another center back after losing Bobby Burling to the Montreal Impact over the winter. And as evidenced Saturday, Bernárdez is not resting on his reputation; he’s backing it up with his play on the field.
WATCH: Full match highlights
“He’s a stud,” Busch said. “Within the first week of him coming in, I knew we got somebody good. I’ve played with a lot of good defenders throughout the years and he’s going to be one of the good ones.
“I know it’s only one game, but he keeps things organized. He’s very comfortable on the ball, which helps. Nothing against the other guys we have, but that’s what we were missing, I think, last year: A leader on that backline.”
The Quakes were also missing the type of victory they posted Saturday. Last season, San Jose only won twice by a single goal and never by a 1-0 scoreline. The defense simply wasn’t cohesive enough to hold on in those situations.
“I think Victor’s presence and calming influence on the team is what was needed, and I think he did it well tonight,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said. “He was very assured and solid and played well.”
Busch said he and Bernárdez are working on their language barrier to make communication even more seamless.
“It’s a challenge,” Busch said. “I can’t really put sentences together [in Spanish], but we’ve talked about some things, using Rams [bilingual Quakes captain Ramiro Corrales] and other guys, what I mean when I say, ‘la linea’ – ‘hold the line’ – and things like that. I’m not fluent, but I can get enough across to him where he knows [what I mean].”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.