SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Going on four and half seasons -- the current length of their playoff drought -- the San Jose Earthquakes have been searching for some magic on offense. They will hope they’ve found it in new Designated Player signing Valeri "Vako" Qazaishvili, who arrived in the Bay Area this week ahead of the opening of the secondary transfer window.
A native of the Republic of Georgia, a country with a population slightly more than half that of the greater Bay Area, Vako is expected to play as an attacking midfielder for the Quakes in new head coach Chris Leitch’s offensive-minded 3-5-2 formation. The 24-year-old has been on general manager Jesse Fioranelli’s radar for a few years, and he was effusive in his praise for his newest signing.
“He is a very dynamic player,” said Fioranelli. “A player that has courage, a player that fits exactly with what we were looking for, and that is to have the characteristic to want to go there where it hurts, the zone of the field where the legs are usually at. That’s where the tension and the defense is usually very present, and that is where we wanted to have a technically very gifted player.”
Vako was introduced to Earthquakes fans at halftime of the team’s 3-2 victory against the LA Galaxy in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup on Monday, and he received a warm reception from the Avaya Stadium faithful. Fioranelli said that Vako would not be at full speed for two or three weeks -- he might possibly be ready to make his debut when the Quakes return to MLS action on July 19 at the New York Red Bulls -- though the player himself hopes it will be sooner.
“I’m very happy that I am here,” said Vako. “The first time Jesse called, he said he wanted to build a team around me. I will try my best, I will work hard every day and try my best.”
Vako, a starter with the Republic of Georgia’s national team, will be the first from his country to play in MLS. However, he won’t be the only Georgian sports star in the Bay Area. The NBA champion Golden State Warriors feature Zaza Pachulia as their starting center, and the big man was on hand to welcome his fellow countryman to San Jose.
“He’s young, a very talented player,” said Pachulia, who also took the ceremonial first kick before the Open Cup match. “I’ve been watching his career, especially lately as he has started for the Georgia national team. I’m very excited for him, the team, and the fans, because they are going to get to watch a very good player.”
Vako was in street clothes and did not take the field against LA, but he appreciated the show of support from the Warriors star. The 5’8” midfielder -- not even reaching Zaza’s shoulders when they stood side-by-side -- smiled when he was reminded that Pachulia had brought a championship to the Bay Area in his first season, and he hoped to match the feat for the Earthquakes.
“I will try to do my best,” said Vako, “just as he does in basketball.”
Pachulia promised that he would look after the newest Georgian to the Bay Area, adding that he would make sure he and his wife would provide some home cooking from the old country. And when reminded of the NBA title he holds and the trophy that comes with it, the basketball star promised some championship dinner time conversation.
“I’m going to talk to him in more details when the time comes,” Pachulia said. “Hopefully, and I’m pretty sure from watching his game and how hard he plays, he’s a winner. He wants to win, and hopefully he is going to bring that mentality here and help the team to win."