The seats were filled to capacity in the newly christened media room at Avaya Stadium as general manager John Doyle and head coach Dominic Kinnear shepherded their Designated Player signing Innocent Emeghara to the podium. The lights of television cameras and motorized clicks of high-speed cameras created an atmosphere that wasn't remotely possible back at simple Buck Shaw Stadium. No, this press conference marked a new look for the Quakes, and it was punctuated with a new type of major signing.
Emeghara joins San Jose at the prime age of 25, boasting a resume that includes clubs from Switzerland, France, and Italy as professional highlights. He is a technically gifted forward that also brings a lot of pace to his game, something the Quakes need after a season in which they scored a mere 35 goals in 34 games. The Swiss international, born in Nigeria, also is the high-watermark acquisition of the offseason, and he's expected to be the focus of Kinnear's new look Earthquakes when they open the 2015 MLS regular season on March 7 at FC Dallas, looking to snap a 15-game winless streak from last year.
Sounds like a lot of pressure for the Quakes new DP.
"I think everybody, everybody living life has pressure in their own way," said Emeghara, deflecting the notion that the success of the team relies on him alone. "In Europe, we are used to it, pressure. Pressure is everywhere. I'm a professional, and I'm used to pressure. Any pressure is normal. And I am very happy to have this chance, and in the days ahead I'm going to work very hard to do the best I can to help the team."
Emeghara most recently played for Qarabag in the Azerbaijan Premier League, where he scored five goals in eight appearances. Prior to that he played for Livorno and Siena, both of Italy's Serie A, over two years. Financial troubles at his Italian club precipitated his move to Azerbaijan, but Emeghara's career path was looking rather unstable for a forward that just two years ago played internationally for Switzerland.
"That is part of the reason that I chose the club," said Emeghara, "because I don't want to move to another club again. In Europe, it is difficult when you are in a bad situation and move a lot. Yes, I have a lot of experience, but I take the good things from that. I am very happy to be here and to have a long-term contract again and to start a new chapter for me."
Doyle disclosed after the press conference that Emeghara had signed a three-year deal with MLS and the Earthquakes. Only at his first professional stop, with Zurich II in Switzerland, did the well-traveled striker spend as long. However, after spurning moves to Germany and Spain, Emeghara was very pleased with his decision to play in the United States.
"I played for five years in top leagues in Europe," said Emeghara. "I have a lot of experience. I have played in France and in Italy and I have experienced many leagues. For me, playing in the U.S. is a motivation for me to come here, because the football here is different and the level here is very good. I think the league here is the future, the coming football of the world. I am very happy to be part of this now.
"Yes, this was one of the reasons I was was convinced to take this step," continued Emeghara, "because for me it is like a new beginning. After the years in Europe and after my experience, now it is like a second part of my career, so I want to take this part very seriously. I'm looking forward to the days ahead to work very hard and make use of it."
Emeghara will get a chance to show what he can do for the Earthquakes in very short order, as hours after his introductory press conference, he was scheduled to fly to Arizona for a trio of preseason games against MLS competition. Not daunted by the challenge, the forward shared what he hoped to bring to the team and even what goals he has set for the upcoming regular season.
"I am the kind of player that brings everything to the field," said Emeghara. "When I am on the field, I try to help the team in defense and in the offense. I try to score, I try to give assists. I'm the kind of player that tries to do the best that I can on the pitch. I think that my strongest skill is that I am a fast player and I am intelligent and I try to stay in the box. For me, I love to score, and I love to see my teammates score, so to win games is the best thing.
"Honestly speaking, I don't say that I am going to score 20 goals," continued Emeghara when asked to predict his first year with the Quakes. "In every game, I will try to score and to help the team. If the team needs three goals to win the match, I will try to score three or give three assists. Sometimes it doesn't work out that way, but what I promise is that I will always do my best when I am on the pitch."
The transition to playing in the United States will be made easier because Emeghara speaks very good English. Both Doyle and Kinnear mentioned how difficult it has been for other foreign players to adjust to a new culture, but both expressed little concern that Emeghara would fit in right away. In fact, the Swiss citizen felt right at home the minute he arrived in the Bay Area.
"I'm very excited and happy to be here," said Emeghara, comparing the U.S. to other stops in his career. "For me, it was very different, because when I played in France, I couldn't speak French. I had to learn French fast. Also, in Italy, it was very difficult for me. But when I came here, I can understand when people speak, and language is very important. It is an advantage for me, and I think the players are very friendly and open-minded. It's different when compared to Europe, very different. People are more open, more polite, more ftriendly. In Europe, its like another mentality."
Comfortable beginnings on his arrival in San Jose have allowed Emeghara to quickly adjust to his new teammates and already take his place on the training field.
"I think we have a very good team," said Emeghara, just minutes after completing his first full training session with the Quakes. "We have some individually good players, and if we work together and stay together, we are going to have a very good season.
"I can see the difference between European teams and here," continued Emeghara. "In Europe we play a lot of tactics with much intelligence, but here, like in England, you just play football with everybody together, which is nice. It is not like in Italy, where you stay in defense and one team is playing and the other is just defending with eleven players. It's different here. In MLS, it's different. Every team can win everything."
The parity of MLS was a big selling point presented by Doyle to the young forward, who previously to now knew very little about the league. He had heard of some of the more famous European players making the move to America, but actually watching MLS matches was almost impossible.
"We have only football in Europe," explained Emeghara. "They don't show much basketball or other sports. In Germany, in England, in Spain, you only play football. We have many teams, so it's very difficult for somebody living in Europe to watch MLS. But I think that when David Beckham, Thierry Henry, the good players came, we got to thinking, ah, okay, the clubs and the league are improving. From there, we always read and hear a lot about some players and about the league.
"But about the club, because I don't watch the league, I didn't really know much about the club before," admitted Emeghara about his knowledge of the Earthquakes prior to being courted by Doyle and Kinnear. "But now I am really happy to be part of the club."