TSG’s Jay Bell chats with San Jose midfield cornerstone Sam Cronin
You think Sam Cronin and perhaps the thought “solid, perhaps unspectacular, midfielder” comes to mind. But a more appropriate label might be “settling.”
Watching Cronin man the midfield hub for MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes it’s easy to see the impact that Cronin has on the game. He doesn’t get flustered and quietly keeps the team on an even keel–that wasn’t easy task last year through the gritty run to the playoffs, the euphoria around Chris Wondolowski’s breakout campaign, and the challenge of integrating new parts on the fly–midfield mate Khari Shephenson was brought on mid-campaign as was Brazilian Geovanni.
I had a chance to catch up with Cronin in advance of their home opener at the Buck where they welcome MLS powerhouse RSL and unsurprisingly Cronin’s answers reflect his playing style, metered, well-thought out
TSG: How has your first offseason with San Jose been going?
Sam Cronin (SC): Its going good, man. We had a couple changes in the offseason, but mostly its the same core group of guys as last year. We had a good finish to the year last year. We think our team got a little better in the offseason. Offseason has been good and we’re excited to get back at it and hopefully progress and get better for this upcoming 2011 season.
TSG: Has this offseason been kind of different from your first two in Toronto?
SC: Yeah, its been warmer. That is probably the main difference. Any offseason is nice. Get home, do some things with friends during the year and enjoy the down time and just rest your body for the next season.
TSG: Is there a different dynamic with San Jose than there was with Toronto? There always seems to be controversy going on with TFC.
SC: Yeah. San Jose is a much more stable team, in regards to team, the coaching staff and the general manager. I think its 4 seasons for San Jose? They have had the same head coach, same general manager and everything. It always helps and leads to success. Its good to have [AT&T issues] that know what they want. We’ve been doing a good job of building things and we think this might be our breakout year this year.
TSG: When did you first know you were being traded to San Jose?
SC: I found out last World Cup. I was actually at home on the beach down in South Carolina. I got a call from our general manager in Toronto at the time. He just called – I had no idea – he just called me and let me know I had been traded to San Jose. I went back to Toronto, gathered my things up and went out to San Jose.
TSG: How did you feel about the trade?
SC: I was excited. I was excited. I had some good times in Toronto. I hated to leave some of those guys. Really excited for the opportunity for me personally to get on a team that I was very thankful for giving me an opportunity right away. My coaches put a lot of trust in me from the start. That was great and the best way to get acclimated. Compared to the first half of last season, I finished strong and looking forward to this year.
TSG: You said they showed a lot of faith in you initially. You ended up playing a lot for San Jose in the second half of the season. What were you told by Coach Frank Yallop and the Earthquakes when you first arrived?
SC: I was coming off of not playing much in Toronto. I think they probably knew my confidence was not really where it needed to be. So they just instilled a lot of confidence in me and let me know that they followed me through college and through my first year in Toronto and they thought I was a good player and the type of player they wanted to have here. They trusted me to just go out and play. They did not give me too much instruction at first, they just told me to go out and play. That helped me get my confidence back. Obviously as the season went on how they counseled me on how they wanted me to fill that role for them.
TSG: What kind of role did they want you to play?
SC: Just mainly in the defensive midfield spot for them. He just wanted me to be a hard worker for the team. Try to keep the ball for the team and try to keep the flow of the game going. As the season went on we started to keep the ball better and better and started to play some pretty good soccer. That is what the coaching staff wants us to do. They want to have the hardest standards for the hardest working team in the league and we work hard for each other. They always encourage attacking soccer so that is what we are trying to do.
TSG: What was it like down the stretch and also having your first playoff experience in the league?
SC: It was great. Obviously I missed the playoffs with Toronto my first season. To get a little taste of that was great. It is a little different as everyone says. It is a different level of excitement. For a playoff game, your blood starts flowing a little bit. It was exciting, especially playing in New York City against a good team that they had. It was an exciting game and an exciting little run for us and unfortunately it was cut short in Colorado. It was good to get that taste in your mouth and it ended sour for us. Of that little taste, we liked what we had. That’s why we wanted to work hard throughout the offseason and preseason, to get things going again so we get back to that spot where we can go one game further.
TSG: Is the length of the offseason getting you guys ready for the season?
SC: Yeah. Its a good little break and rejuvenate your body; just get away from soccer for a little bit. All the while you keep going a little bit and maintain a good level and work out a couple things that you think you need to improve on. So everyone individually does other things to work on their game individual game and come back as a team. We have had a long good preseason to work on things and figure out how we’re going to play as a team. The preseason has gone well so far for us.
TSG: How do you feel as the season gets closer and closer?
SC: Just excited. We’ve been going at it for a while now. We’ve been pleased with the work that we’ve put in. I think we have been progressing well. We have a preseason game this Saturday against Portland so I’m excited for that. Just really excited to get the season going and play some meaningful games.
TSG: Do you think the team has changed much this season or are you going into this season more as the same team but trying to improve?
SC: I think its similar players plus a couple more good pieces, obviously which helps. I think we have a good, young team with a good, young core of players. We’re confident in our team’s strengths. Everyone has been getting better individually and as a result our team is better, collectively. We have lot of young players who work hard and want to get better. I think we have been doing that and we’re really starting to gel. We’ve gotten good results in preseason, so its important for us to make it consistent and if we do those things we’re going to have a good year this year.
TSG: What are your expectations both for you and the team as a whole?
SC: The minimum is just to make the playoffs. Its still a crazy league. Just want to make the playoffs and then anything can happen. To get to the postseason, first off, to be in a good position and have home field advantage in the playoffs. That is our goal throughout the regular season and obviously to do well and advance in the US Open Cup as well. Those are the two competitions we’re focused on as a team.
For me individually I just want to keep improving as a player. I was pretty happy with the way [AT&T issues] second half of last season. I just want to put a whole season together at that level and even higher and just keep advancing and improving as a player.
TSG: Does the organization put some emphasis on performing well, not just in the league, but also in the US Open Cup and also the SuperLiga if that tournament does return this year?
SC: Yeah, we’re waiting to see if that is going to be on the up and up.
Yeah, absolutely. Every time we step on the field and represent the Earthquakes we want to do well. Every competition is important and every game is important. We have a chance to have a good showing in the US Open Cup this year. I know the team did not advance too far last year. So its really a chance for us to hopefully have a good enough team that can balance two competitions. Every game that we play reflects on the team and we want to represent the team well and have a good showing for the club.
TSG: Are you looking forward to anything specific this season? Any specific matchups or team goals or anything?
SC: Every game is important to us. I don’t want to harp on one team more than another, but our first game here is against Salt Lake who has proven to be arguably the best team in the league over the last couple of years. They came in here last year for the home opener and beat us 3-0. So its a great test to start the season. Right now we are just focused on game number one and we’ve got a lot to play for; kind of pay them back for what they did to us last season. I’m looking forward to that Salt Lake game.
SC: Yeah, that will be good as well. Its a good rivalry between us and LA, and Chivas as well. We’re all three close and there are starting to be some good teams out here on the West Coast. You’ve got three California teams. You’ve got Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. Some good teams and some big soccer cities to play in, so we want to put our stamp on the West Coast. If we are one of the best teams on the West Coast, I think we will be one of the best teams in the league.
TSG: Now, you played at the Gold Cup in 2009. Do you think about fighting for a spot at this year’s tournament?
SC: Yeah. That’s obviously the goal. The national team is the ultimate goal and the thing to strive for, but I know the only way to do those things is to do really well for your club team. Obviously that’s always in the back of my mind, but all of my attention is with the Earthquakes and just trying to be the best team player that I can be for the Earthquakes. If I do that then the other things will fall in line. My number one priority is the San Jose Earthquakes.
TSG: Thanks, man. I want to thank you for talking with us today. We always like to end our interviews on a lighter note. So I’d just like to ask you a few more questions.
SC: No problem.
TSG: What are some things you miss about Wake Forest?
SC: I think I just missed the camaraderie on the team. We had a great group of guys there when I was in school. We had a lot of great relationships on the field and had good success, but we were also good friends off of the field and enjoyed experiencing our college years together. Obviously, those are some of the best years of your life. Just the camaraderie on the team and the closeness of the community and the university are probably the two things that stand out the most.
TSG: What do you miss about living in Toronto?
SC: I liked all of the different culture that Toronto has. Its a really diverse city with a little bit of everything. I miss that aspect of it. Its nice to be under the California sun working for San Jose now.
TSG: So lets be honest, you’re glad to be living in California now?
SC: Yeah. California has been good. Once we start winning some games, it will be even sweeter.
TSG: What are some things you enjoy about living in California?
SC: Just the landscape of the Bay Area up here is really cool. There is tons of stuff going on. You’ve got San Francisco and the Bay Area just has so much to offer and obviously the weather is always great, so not too many complaints. I like soccer here.