The San Jose Earthquakes academy, like those of many teams within MLS, was founded as a way to shepherd local soccer talent from the youth ranks to the senior roster. But until the club's de facto farm system gets to that point, the Quakes might want to simply look to The Farm, a.k.a., Stanford University, as ripe pickings Adam Jahn and JJ Koval have developed on its fertile grounds over the past couple of years.
Both selected via the MLS SuperDraft -- Jahn in 2013 and Koval last year -- the two close confidants have added to the Bay Area flavor of the Earthquakes and made great strides in cracking the Starting XI. On Saturday afternoon against the LA Galaxy in the soft-opening of Avaya Stadium, the former Cardinal standouts scored goals that earned the home side a 3-2 win in San Jose's last game of the preseason.
"It was great," said Jahn, with Koval standing to his side. "We are really good friends and have been playing together for five years now, and we help each other out and motivate each other."
The two have adjoining lockers in the Earthquakes spacious new locker room at Avaya Stadium, but the connection goes back to the three years they shared together at Stanford. Jahn, who was a standout forward, has slowly honed his nose for goal in his two complete MLS seasons -- one spent primarily with USL affiliate Sacramento Republic FC -- and has caught the attention of his San Jose head coach.
"He's a big guy, and he puts himself in and around it," said Dominic Kinnear of Jahn's propensity to get involved in the box. "You always think set pieces are a good opportunity for big players to hopefully do something. His run up and the way he attacked the ball on that one worked out, and he got close on a second one a little bit after. He came on the field right away determined to do something good, and obviously it was a great goal."
Jahn will get credit for the game winning goal for San Jose in the first soccer match at Avaya Stadium. His thunderous 67th minute header -- just three minutes after he entered the game as a substitute for Koval -- was his seventh of the preseason, best on the team by far, and earned the respect of a guy that knows a thing or two about scoring important goals for the Earthquakes.
"Yeah, he's been great for us, and I think he came in day one ready," said talisman striker Chris Wondolowski. "He's shown that he's focusing on being that target and he put on a lot of muscle, and it really showed there. He was battling with Omar Gonzalez, who's one of the best at that, and he handled his own. On that corner kick, he did a great job of finishing it, going in there and dunking it."
Jahn did get the better of Gonzalez, Wondolowski's teammate on the U.S. men's national team during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but it was a goal born of preparation and not luck. Jahn has previously mentioned the mentoring he received from Sacramento head coach Preki as instrumental in his improvement, and his goal against the Galaxy was a testament to that attacking emphasis.
"Before the corner kick was taken, I decided I was going to go near post," said Jahn, "and (Matias) Perez Garcia played a great ball. That was the easy part, heading it home."
Easy execution, but only as the product of an offseason workout regiment that saw Jahn put on nearly 20 pounds of muscle. The once lanky forward admitted that his weight gain was also due to an increased diet, but these were not pounds of excess that he has added to his physique. His improvement has been due in large part to his offseason physical training, but perhaps even more so due to his mental will to improve.
"I've always felt that he has a great head on his shoulders," said Wondolowski. "He knows what it takes. He's always been a great professional, day in and day out, and he will always pick everyone's brain and try to get little pieces here and there. That's what makes him a great player. I'll always give him advice, but I think he's come a long way, and he's doing a great job with it."
Right on his heels, and perhaps already past him on the roster pecking order, is Koval, who started against the Galaxy and has joined forces with Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi to create a formidable duo in the Earthquakes central midfield. Koval, a frequent target of Perez Garcia on free kicks into the opponents' penalty area this preseason, has played a more advanced role as compared to Pierazzi, and Kinnear has definitely taken notice.
"I thought he did really good," said Kinnear. "Scored a great goal. One thing you know about JJ is that he is going to cover a lot of ground. He is going to put himself in and around the action. We talked with him a little bit at halftime about being a bit more away from Matias (Perez Garcia) rather than being so close to him to spread the field out a little bit, and I think that is one of the reasons that he got his goal the way he did."
Koval's goal came in the 58th minute and prompted the 1906 Ultras supporter group, stationed in the Avaya Stadium grandstand behind the net, to take off their shirts in celebration. It was a perfectly timed volley, a shot Koval described as perfect coming off his foot, and it signaled to the more seasoned Earthquakes on the field that the second year midfielder was coming into his own.
"It was a great ball by Matias," said Wondolowski about the sequence that led to the goal. "He saw my run and he put it perfectly for me. I saw JJ coming in making a late run out of midfield. The amount of ground he covers is amazing so the way he was at the top of the box was nice. That was a great finish by him."
"The play was developing out wide" said Koval," and the ball came in to Wondo. Sometimes my job is to get underneath him for any ball that is knocked down. Wondo knocked it down and I had an opportunity to score and I felt that I took full advantage of it."
Koval seemed to be a safe draft pick in 2014 -- not an overly flashy player, but a guy that could play reliably as a box-to-box midfielder. He spent a short spell with Sacramento last year, just a handful of games as compared to Jahn's 22 in the state capital, and still managed to make more appearances with the Quakes than any other rookie in the team's history. This past offseason, he even spent time training with Benfica in Portugal as a way of improving his sharpness on the ball.
"His engine has always been there," said Wondolowski. "He has always been able to cover an enormous amount of ground, but I think his composure on the ball has really improved, and he showed that on his finish. It was not an easy finish and he made it look very easy. Throughout the game, I thought his passing was pretty sharp and I think that is something that he has developed this offseason."
Koval has found no bigger supporter on the Quakes team than Jahn, and the bond was strengthened by the time they spent together on the Stanford men's soccer team. The lessons learned in college have also helped them both improve as professionals, and Jahn knew going into this preseason that he and Koval would have to impress Kinnear if they wanted to be in the coach's plans moving forward.
"We were both working hard," said Jahn, "which is what we both learned at Stanford. Nothing can replace work ethic. That's what's gotten us this far and also what will hopefully get us to the next level."
"We enjoy playing on the same team together," said Koval. "We've been playing together for a long time, so I was honored when I got to follow him here, and he's looked out for me, taken me under his wing and it's fun to have him right next to me in the locker room. It's fun to enjoy the journey together."
With Jahn's seven preseason goals leading the team and Koval's determination and grit on display in every one of his appearances, the two young Earthquakes have made strong cases to be included in the match-day 18 when the season starts on March 7 against FC Dallas. Those efforts have been noticed by Kinnear, and may soon be rewarded.
"I'm getting to know them," said Kinnear. "I don't really know them all that well; I've only seem them in this preseason. So they came in in great shape, and I think that was a benefit to them for how they approached preseason, and I think they are reaping the benefits of their hard work away from the game."
The Stanford pair won over the crowd at Avaya Stadium Saturday afternoon, and now Koval and Jahn set eyes forward on a successful MLS season.
"I'm feeling very fit and excited for the season to start," said Koval. "I'm feeling ready to go."