Victor Bernardez of the San Jose Earthquakes looks on at the action
USA Today Sports

San Jose Earthquakes hope Victor Bernardez's toughness sparks return to form: "He's been missed"

SAN JOSE, Calif.—It looks as though Victor Bernardez will return just in time for the San Jose Earthquakes.

The big center back has practiced fully this week after missing 3 1/2 matches due to a hamstring injury suffered September 5th against Philadelphia. That puts the former Honduran international in line to replace Clarence Goodson, who will have to serve a 1-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation instead of facing Real Salt Lake on Sunday night (7 pm ET; FS1).

“Vic’s a big part of this team, and it’s good to see him out there,” said San Jose captain Chris Wondolowski.

When Bernardez exited late in the first half against Philadelphia, the Quakes were locked in a scoreless draw. In the 321 minutes since, San Jose have allowed seven goals during an 0-2-2 stretch that has blunted the team's playoff push.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a chain-reaction, but it kind of is,” said San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear. “You move Fatai [Alashe, typically a holding midfielder] back and maybe lose something from midfield – even though I think Marc Pelosi’s been playing very well for us. But you do sometimes miss that little bit of experience, of center-back toughness. So yeah, [Bernardez] has been missed.”

Alashe impressed during a 1-1 tie against Seattle on September 12, scoring his second MLS goal during his first professional start at center back. And Kinnear refused to use the rookie’s inexperience as an excuse for allowing three goals in a 15-minute span against New York City FC last weekend en route to an eventual 3-2 defeat.

“When he was playing good, those questions didn’t come up,” Kinnear said. “We gave up some goals, and that question becomes apparent. But no, I don’t think the goals that we gave up were because of the guys that were there. I just thought we shut down, concentration-wise, and were not attacking the ball in a very important area, which was our penalty area.”

Now Alashe – who teamed with Goodson in each of the last three matches – will likely have to adjust to playing alongside Bernardez at the center of San Jose’s backline, barring an unexpected change. Alashe credited the communication of Goodson and Marvell Wynne on either side with helping to ease his transition; that progress might be impacted by the potential Bernardez-for-Goodson swap.

“Clay is usually the more vocal one,” Pelosi said. “Victor is a big presence in there, but his communication’s a little different.”

There exists little time to adjust. RSL (10-11-8) have won three of their last four in MLS play, drawing within two points of San Jose (11-12-7) while holding a game in hand. Quakes forward Innocent said he thought the club would have to win at least three of their remaining four matches to secure a playoff berth. Kinnear might be in a similar frame of mind.

“You could say that,” said Kinnear, of considering Sunday must-win. “I think I’m leaning that way, but I’m not going to say we have to win this game.”