SAN JOSE, Calif. – After Dominic Kinnear confirmed in October that he would be jumping from the Houston Dynamo to join the San Jose Earthquakes in 2015, then-rookie forward Mark Sherrod – the Dynamo’s second-round pick in 2014 – made sure to tell his coach one thing in particular.
“I said, ‘Hey, thanks’ – because, you know, he drafted me,” Sherrod said last week. “And I said, ‘Thanks for the opportunity. And just so you know, as long as you’re coaching, I am always willing to play for you. Always.’”
It didn’t take long for Kinnear to make that happen – even if it took longer than expected for Sherrod to hit the field for the Quakes.
Sherrod – acquired by San Jose in December from Orlando City, who had selected him in the Expansion Draft – finally made his San Jose debut at Toronto FC last weekend, coming on in place of JJ Koval after 75 minutes. And though the 24-year-old former University of Memphis star couldn’t change the 3-1 outcome against the Reds, he did offer a few glimpses of the talents that enticed Kinnear to give up San Jose’s second-round selection in this year’s SuperDraft.
“It was good to have him out on the field,” Kinnear told MLSsoccer.com. “I thought he did some good things for us, a couple of good touches. Obviously, the more comfortable he gets … it’s a good one for us. I think he’s going to help us.”
Sherrod’s finest moment came in the opening minute of stoppage time. He took a square pass from Adam Jahn as San Jose was clearing a Toronto corner kick, then galloped forward on a 50-yard run – holding off defender Nick Hagglund as he did so – before delivering a left-footed shot from the top of the box that elicited a nice block from Toronto’s Eriq Zavaleta.
That level of effort likely came as little surprise to Sherrod’s teammates.
“He puts in so much work,” Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s literally the first one in here every day, doing rehab, and has been since even before the whole team was together. I’m proud to see it all pay off because he does put in a tremendous amount of work and is a great player. We can definitely use him and need him.”
For Sherrod, the return was a reward worth waiting for. Having suffered a torn ACL in his left knee last May, Sherrod had been on the brink of returning just after this season began – only to suffer a torn meniscus in the same knee, necessitating an arthroscopic procedure in March.
“I’m still looking for it,” Sherrod said of finding the right word to encapsulate his reaction. “It’s tough. It weighs a lot on you, to be honest. Coming off one injury, you’re literally in arm’s length of coming back and you have another injury – to have it happen twice in a row and still not be able to prove anything to any of the guys on the team, just the coach, can be pretty tough.
“But these guys, they’re so nice to you, they’re always uplifting. Even when they see me doing rehab and stuff, they’re always encouraging. It never felt like I was by myself through any of it.”
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Sherrod still isn’t often by himself; even as he does extra conditioning work after practices, teammate Mike Fucito runs alongside of him. Getting Sherrod up to speed is especially desirable given that San Jose forwards Innocent and Steven Lenhart both remain out for the foreseeable future with knee problems of their own.
Sherrod would provide an alternative to Jahn as a target forward, and if he can score a few goals – Wondolowski is the only Quake with more than one tally at this point – it would go a long way toward starting to repay Kinnear’s faith.
“I was thrilled to come here with him, just because I’ve learned a lot from him,” Sherrod said of Kinnear. “He’s taken numerous risks on me. He’s given me tons of opportunities, so I just try to work as hard as I can for him.”