SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose Earthquakes finally got the one that got away.
Simon Dawkins was a key contributor to the Quakes for two seasons – including San Jose’s Supporters Shield run in 2012 – before being called back to England by Tottenham Hotspur, who had lent Dawkins’ services to MLS.
Dawkins originally came to San Jose as a relative youngster (at 23 years old) still looking to prove himself after injuries had derailed a promising career. He returned to the Quakes last month as a 28-year-old veteran of England’s top two tiers and joined San Jose as a Designated Player – which means there’s little chance of having him escape again in the near future.
He always expected to come back to San Jose
Keeping Dawkins after the 2012 season proved impossible for the Quakes. Other Premier League clubs were interested in his services, pushing his price tag beyond what the Quakes were willing and able to pay. Spurs lent Dawkins to Aston Villa for the second half of the 2012-13 EPL season, after which he landed at Derby County of the Championship for 2 1/2 years.
“I remember saying as I was leaving that I would return here,” Dawkins told MLSsoccer.com in February. “Obviously, it was quite difficult at that time, but I did say I would return.”
He got what he wanted out of his stint in England
Dawkins was never able to break into the first team at Spurs – the club he grew up watching – but he got his chance to play in England’s top flight upon coming back from San Jose.
“That was a great experience for me, to play against some of the players I did, in the stadiums I did, some of the biggest in the world,” Dawkins said of his half-season at Villa Park. “And Derby probably should be in the Premiership. The players I played with there were really good. So I played at a really high level there, and I’m happy that I did that.”
John Doyle kept the San Jose home fires burning
Perhaps the biggest reason Dawkins is back in the blue and black is Quakes general manager John Doyle, whose persistent pursuit finally paid off this winter.
“It’s just because of John, really,” Dawkins said. “He’s remained in contact this whole time. … Always frequent calls, messages, e-mails just to keep in contact. I thought that was really nice of him, to be honest. You don’t always get much connection like that in football.”
San Jose is where he first became an inverted winger
Prior to joining the Quakes, Dawkins had been used primarily as a second forward or even a striker. Frank Yallop, San Jose’s coach, moved Dawkins onto the left wing to get him on the pitch, and the right-footer flourished there, scoring 14 goals in 53 league appearances over his two seasons.
He’s more versatile than before
Dawkins was looked at by many observers as an upgrade along the wing for San Jose, but in the Quakes’ preseason game against Sacramento Republic FC on Feb. 20, he opened in the center of midfield as a playmaker linking Anibal Godoy and forwards Chris Wondolowski and Quincy Amarikwa. With Fatai Alashe still recovering from offseason hernia surgery and Marc Pelosi having just undergone a knee operation, Dawkins might be pressed into more duty in that spot, at least in the short term.
“At Derby, I went there as a left winger and they played me behind the forward again and then sometimes in midfield,” Dawkins said. “I’ve kind of learned a lot while I’ve been over there, playing different positions. I’ve obviously grown as a player, so I hope to bring that to this team this time – wherever [on the field] that may be.”
His give-and-go passing game can be sublime
Dawkins’ ability with the ball at his feet and his shot from distance are cornerstones of his game, but his ability to play delicious one-two combinations might be the most underrated aspect of his game. Watch a few examples here and here.
He’s become a regular for Jamaica
Dawkins played for England internationally as a teenager, but Jamaica was after his services for years, including during his first stint with the Quakes. The timing wasn’t right at that point, however, as Dawkins was concentrating on recovering from the injuries that stalled his progress with Spurs.
“When I was here last time, they approached me a few times, and I thought it would something that I would love to do,” Dawkins said. “But at the time, when I was here, I thought, ‘Let me focus on my club career, get myself back.’ I thought going to play for Jamaica could get in the way of time I needed off, just to let my body recover.
“Once I went back to England, the opportunity came again, and I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’ I’m thankful that I did that, because I got to be in some great, great tournaments and games.”
Dawkins has made 20 appearances for Jamaica since debuting in 2014, including a starting role in the Gold Cup final last year against Mexico.
His goal kept the Reggae Boyz’ 2018 World Cup hopes alive
On Sept. 8, Jamaica were leading 1-0 in the dying minutes of the finale of their home-and-home series against Nicaragua in the third round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. But the Nicaraguans, playing at home, still led on away goals, having won by a 3-2 count four days earlier in Kingston. Jamaica needed another goal, or they would be out at the first hurdle.
Enter Dawkins, who came on in the 83rd minute as a go-for-broke substitution and needed just six minutes to save Jamaica’s World Cup campaign. Kemar Lawrence’s throw from the left wing ricocheted off two Nicaraguan defenders, popping high into the air some 14 yards from goal. Dawkins, unmarked at the top of the area, tracked the ball’s slow arc while moving into position to lash it with a right-footed volley that left goalkeeper Justo Lorente no chance.
“I was watching it come down for a long time,” Dawkins said. “I just sort of focused on it, connected well and it went in. That was it.”
Even better: He predicted he’d score
After coming on, Dawkins told Jamaican captain Adrian Mariappa that he was going to hit the net.
“The funny thing was, I knew I was going to score before I even came on,” Dawkins said. “It was this weird feeling. I was telling the rest of the guys, ‘I have this feeling I’m going to get one chance.’ And thankfully, I did. Great moment for us.”
He’s wearing No. 49 for a reason
The Quakes had No. 9 reserved for Dawkins’ use this year, but he asked for No. 49 to honor his late mother, Lorna, who died at that age from breast cancer in May.
“I’ll have that [number] for probably the rest of my career,” Dawkins said. “The reason why I’m here, playing, is because of her, from her being so supportive when I was younger. Now I’m just playing for her and I’ll always have her in my memory. It’s made me grow up a bit more.”