When the mind's endeavors outpace the body's abilities, it often marks the beginning of the end for a professional athlete. Years of putting one's body on the line, season after season, not to mention the daily grind of training and regeneration sessions, ultimately take their toll. Hanging up the boots is an outcome all soccer players know will come, but none is really ready to face that day when it arrives.
For San Jose Earthquakes defender Clarence Goodson, who just completed his twelfth pro season, the march of time has made him reflect on a career that started in 2004 as an MLS rookie with FC Dallas, saw him play overseas in Europe for nearly six years, and featured his return stateside with the Quakes in 2013. Now 33 years old, but coming off arguably one of his most effective seasons one year after suffering a debilitating toe injury, Goodson acknowledged that the calendar does garner his attention more than it once did.
"I am going to take it one year at a time," Goodson shared with reporters when asked about his future. "I do feel good physically and mentally, so I still have more time to go. But after every season you have to reflect and see where you stand. You're only young once."
The Earthquakes were officially eliminated from postseason consideration last Sunday on the last day of the season, even before the final whistle sounded on their 2-1 defeat at Western Conference top-seed FC Dallas, as results around the league ensured that San Jose would add a third year to its MLS Cup Playoffs drought. Long since gone are the halcyon days of the 2012 "Goonies" squad that made an amazing marauding run to a Supporters' Shield title. The 2015 Quakes would have to settle for an unwelcome early start to their off-season.
For many of the current Quakes, the clock starting ticking on their future situations in San Jose as they strode dejectedly off the field at Toyota Stadium. Sure, a 17 point improvement over 2014's results had been accomplished, but any season without a postseason berth fails to meet preseason expectations, and roster moves are sure to be made.
One player that has made his case to be around in 2016 abundantly clear is Goodson, who prior to the team's penultimate game of the season was named the Earthquakes 2015 Defender of the Year. With a pair of goals and assists this season to add to his impressive defensive performances, the 33-year old showed no ill effects from the toe injury that required surgery at the conclusion of last year's campaign.
"I feel good," said Goodson. "I was able to play a ton of games this year and stayed at a high level. I haven't really had any problems this year. Getting the toe injury sorted out last year, I feel like a new guy."
Goodson started in 28 games for the Earthquakes and was instrumental, along with center back partner Victor Bernardez, in helping new starting goalkeeper David Bingham tie the club record for shutouts in a season. It wasn't always easy early on, but as a unit, the Quakes defense completed the season with the third-lowest goals-allowed (39) total in the league.
"I love playing with Vic," said Goodson. "He's a great guy. We've done really well together, and when we are on the field together, the team has played well."
In another season without playoffs, the future status of both Goodson and Bernardez will be uncertain. Both have team options remaining on their contracts with MLS, but the Earthquakes have yet to announce if either or both will have those options picked up. Goodson, for one, is hopeful general manager John Doyle and head coach Dominic Kinnear see fit to bring him back in 2016.
"Yeah, I'd like to be back here," Goodson stated. "I don't know. We have to take each year one at a time. You never know what is going to happen."
Meanwhile, Goodson already is looking forward to recharging his body no matter what lies ahead for him. His off-season will begin with some rest and relaxation before he will hit the gym well ahead of the start of preseason camp in January.
"You have to do the best you can to stay healthy," said Goodson. "My routine has changed quite a bit from when I was a young man.
"I'll take some time over the next few weeks to not do anything at all. Just relax and let the body recover. But being the age that I am, I don't want to take too much time off because it will take more time in the long run to get back to this level."
All the while, he will keep his phone by his side, awaiting word from Doyle and Kinnear as to whether or not he will be captaining the Quakes defense for another season. One thing is certain, Goodson hopes that San Jose will be the last stop of his professional career, as he is committed to helping the Earthquakes for as long as he and the team want to make it happen.
"I don't see myself, unless something drastically changes, playing anywhere else for the rest of my career," said Goodson. "To me, this is the last stop."
For the club's defending Defender of the Year, that stop is hopefully many years down the road.