SAN JOSE, Calif. – As a rookie for the San Jose Earthquakes in 2008, midfielder Shea Salinas didn’t hold out much in the way of hope for his job security.
So you can imagine his amazement at reaching the 100-start plateau with the Quakes last month.
“My first year in San Jose, I honestly didn’t think I was going to last three or four years, even,” Salinas told reporters. “To last eight years now has been – I’m just truly thankful and surprised by it all. I’ve really been humbled.”
Salinas reached his triple-digit milestone on Aug. 19 as the Quakes blasted Sporting Kansas City 5-0, and he capped that achievement with something else he hadn’t done since his rookie year: Scoring in back-to-back games. Salinas found the net against D.C. United on Aug. 22, and again the following Friday to make the difference in a 1-0 victory against the LA Galaxy.
Salinas actually opened his recent run of form with a pair of assists on goals from Cordell Cato in the win at Sporting. Along the way, he set another career mark; his three goals in a season set a personal best in MLS play, and moved him into a tie for third on the club with Cato. Salinas’ four assists put him second on San Jose behind Matias Perez Garcia.
“Having three goals is pretty cool,” Salinas said. “Hopefully, I can get a few more this season.”
It’s quite the turnaround for a player who didn’t figure in coach Dominic Kinnear’s starting lineups at the beginning of the year. Kinnear, in his first year back with the Quakes, initially used new Designated Player Innocent on the left wing, with Salinas coming on as a sub in four of San Jose’s first five league matches in 2015. But then Innocent tore his meniscus and underwent surgery that will likely keep him out until October, opening the door for Salinas to re-establish his place in the Quakes’ starting XI.
The 29-year-old Texas native responded and has been rewarded with 21 consecutive starts, the second-longest streak for any San Jose outfield player this year.
“He just looks confident,” Kinnear said of Salinas. “He looks like he’s enjoying the game. I think he feels that no matter who the defender is playing against him, he can beat him. And if we get him the ball in a timely fashion, where he can get room to run at guys, it makes it better for us. These last three games, he’s been a key player for us. . . . When you’re producing and playing well, you seem to want to ball more, and I think that’s the case with Shea right now.”
Salinas earned four assists in San Jose’s first six matches last season before tailing off as defenses paid more attention to him amid the Quakes’ oft-toothless offense. Since the addition of Panamanian international Anibal Godoy last month, Salinas’ avenues of attack have opened up considerably as the Quakes have forced more turnovers in the middle third – and have had crisper, more incisive passing when possession is regained.
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“As a team, we’re just winning the ball in good spots, and that’s allowed all of us to sit a little higher,” Salinas said. “When you win the ball in a higher spot, you’re able to get forward a little quicker. Before, we were kind of sitting deep, and defending pretty deep. And then when we won the ball, it was a longer way to the goal. So now, winning the ball in midfield and then going has been fun.”
Salinas will likely be asked to carry an even greater load offensively against Philadelphia on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), as San Jose has to make do without midfielders Godoy, Sanna Nyassi and Marc Pelosi, at the least, who are all out on international duty. (The Quakes are hoping Cato’s playing time for Trinidad & Tobago against Mexico in Salt Lake City on Friday will be limited enough that he can feature at Avaya Stadium the next day.)
“Yeah, I do,” Salinas said when asked if he feels confident against any defender. “I enjoy going one-on-one against guys. When I look across the field, I don’t feel like there’s many right backs that could stop me consistently. And even if they stop me nine times [out of 10], it just takes one time to get through and get something. I just have to remember that, if I’m not having success: It just takes one time to get past a guy and get a good cross off.”