Earthquakes' Georgian star Vako chasing big goals for both club and country

SAN JOSE, Calif. – In case you’re wondering if it gets boring to see your own golazo, the short answer is, no.

“It was one of the best goals that I’ve ever scored, and I’ve watched it like 200 times already,” San Jose Earthquakes attacker Vako told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday, referring to his slaloming run and jaw-dropping, outside-of-the-boot strike that helped propel the Georgian national team to a 2-0 victory in an international exhibition last week against Estonia.

It was another entry in a growing highlight reel for the 25-year-old, who began 2018 on a hot streak for the Quakes, delivering a pair of goals and assists in San Jose’s first three matches.

“I’ve had lots of time to adapt,” said Vako, who joined the Quakes last June. “I’ve been here 10 months. I needed time to get to know the players and the league and soccer here. Now it works good and I’m happy. … So now I feel like I’m at home. It helps me, a lot.”

The increased level of production has put Vako in some select company. Taking into account last season’s five goals and two assists in 13 appearances, Vako has put up 11 combined goals and assists in his first 15 MLS matches – a total that matches or exceeds the early performances of such stars as Toronto FC’s Jozy Altidore, Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti or Portland’s Diego Valeri. And on a per-minute basis, Vako’s first 15 performance (1.02 points per 90 minutes) tops Atlanta’s Miguel Almiron (0.91) and Seattle’s Nicolas Lodeiro (0.87).

“As soon as he’s gotten here, he puts up numbers, puts up stats, and he has the talent to open up some defenses by some individual magic,” Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski said. “I think he’s been doing the same thing that he’s been doing since he’s come in here … He’s definitely fitting in.”

Vako | USA Today Sports Images

Vako has helped key a resurgence for a San Jose attack that managed just 39 goals in the regular season, tied for 19th out of 22 clubs. Stationed as an inverted winger on the left side, Vako is able to cut in with the ball on his dominant right foot. He has taken a team-high 12 shots thus far this season.

“Vako, for me, is a great player,” Quakes coach Mikael Stahre said. “He’s important for our attacking game, for sure. Yeah, he’s a player that we trust a lot. Not just for the assists and the goals, for our attacking game in general. … Offensively, I’m quite happy with the performance [of the team] so far. We’ve scored six goals in three games. I’m pretty happy with that. But we’ve conceded seven.”

One has to dig back two decades, into San Jose’s first MLS incarnation, to find a player with double digits in goals and assists during the same season; no Quake has achieved that feat since Ronald Cerritos bagged 13 goals and 12 assists in 1998. Wondolowski “absolutely” feels that Vako can top those marks this season, starting with Saturday's visit to the Philadelphia Union (7 pm ET; TV & streaming info).

“Last year I played a half-season here and I scored five goals and had two assists and yeah, of course, my goal is to make more goals and more assists, compared to last year,” Vako said. “My goal is to make 10 goals and 10 assists.”

Another goal is to help the Georgian national team – currently tied for 101st in the FIFA world rankings – make some history. Since declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia has attempted to qualify for six editions of the World Cup and European Championships, missing the mark each time.

With the advent of the UEFA Nations League, however, there will be an additional avenue for lower-rated teams to make the field for the 2020 Euro finals. And Vako wants to ensure that Georgia take advantage of that opportunity. Georgia begin play in the Nations League Sept. 6 against Kazakhstan – and Vako would like to take the momentum of beating a side such as Estonia (FIFA rank: No. 86) into that competition.

“It was a friendly game, but it was still important for me and for our country to win these kind of games,” Vako said.