SAN JOSE, Calif. – Dominic Kinnear’s first major decision upon returning to the San Jose Earthquakes has turned out to be one of his best.
Almost before putting his bags down at Avaya Stadium, Kinnear and the Quakes’ front office made the difficult choice to let go of veteran goalkeeper Jon Busch – a fan favorite – in favor of mostly untested youngster David Bingham.
Suffice it to say, that’s worked out pretty well. The choice led to a record-tying season from Bingham – who played every single regular-season minute and equaled San Jose’s single-season best with 12 shutouts – which in turn sparked a rebirth of his national-team prospects.
Bingham earned his first full-team cap with the US last month, shutting out Canada 1-0 at the StubHub Center. He followed up last weekend with another 1-0 clean sheet against Colorado as the Quakes started their 2016 MLS schedule on a winning note.
“I’m definitely more confident now than I was a year ago of getting a chance to play with the national team, especially after being in camp for a month and getting the start, getting a shutout, getting a win,” Bingham told MLSsoccer.com this week. “The main thing is just to stay consistent.”
The route to San Jose’s No. 1 spot in net was a circuitous one for Bingham, who landed with the Quakes via weighted lottery in 2011. The Bay Area native earned All-American honors at Cal, but couldn’t unseat Busch and eventually went out on loan in San Antonio and Norway. To some extent, Bingham, who recorded just four league starts in as many years, was at the end of his professional rope when Kinnear replaced Mark Watson after the 2014 season.
“I think if the old coaching staff was still here, it’s pretty safe to say I wouldn’t be here,” Bingham said. “It was getting to the point where it was frustrating. You’re here at training every day, you want to help the team and for whatever reason, you don’t get the chance, or you do get the chance and you do well – it felt like it just didn’t matter.”
Bingham’s first weeks as a full-fledged No. 1 might have been a little up and down – a shaky debut in a loss at Dallas was followed by seven saves during a win in Seattle – but the 26-year-old eventually settled into a groove, finishing with 12 shutouts to tie Pat Onstad’s franchise record for a single season.
“We were thinking, especially the way he was playing at the end of last year, that there may be a chance that he possibly gets called into January camp,” Kinnear told MLSsoccer.com. “And if he got a chance to go into January camp, we thought he would show well enough to get them to take him seriously.”
Bingham’s last previous involvement with US Soccer came four years earlier, when he was one of the keepers looked at by then-Under-23 coach Caleb Porter in the buildup to the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the 2012 Olympics. Porter eventually settled on Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson, both of whom made critical errors as the Americans crashed out of the tournament in the group stage, failing to make it to London.
Nevertheless, with solid holds on the No. 1 positions at their respective clubs, Hamid (D.C. United) and Johnson (Chicago Fire) kept setting the pace in the race to eventually replace stalwarts Tim Howard and Brad Guzan atop the U.S. goalkeeping depth chart. Johnson made his debut with the senior national team in 2011 and Hamid did the same the following year.
“When you see them jump up to the full team and you’re sitting on the bench for your club team, it’s frustrating,” Bingham said. “So it’s nice to be back in the mix at least, and hopefully get a call. When you get a call, you have to be ready.”
Bingham responded well last month, debuting with a 1-0 win against Canada. Although it wasn’t a performance that produced any highlight-reel stops – Canada didn’t put any of their four shots on frame – it did earn praise from US coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who lauded Bingham’s control of the penalty area, confidence and lack of nerves.
Whether it was a strong enough performance to earn Bingham another shot as Klinsmann prepares for 2018 World Cup qualifiers this month will soon be revealed. Though Bingham is trying to keep his blinders on, looking only at this Sunday’s opponent: Porter and the defending MLS champion Portland Timbers (7 pm ET; FS1).
“If you want to keep getting called into the national team, you can’t focus on that,” Bingham said. “You have to focus on your club team because good performances here will get me there. That’s the main thing, is not stepping too far ahead again and always thinking about the national team. Gotta focus on here first.”