Crucial stoppage time equalizer, new contract extension, milestone birthday, and the California Clasico on the horizon -- what an incredible week it has been for San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Shea Salinas.
The now 30-year-old winger -- his birthday is today -- was the first SuperDraft selection of the Quakes when the organization returned to MLS for the 2008 season. And after a few stops around the league, forced by expansion drafts that have resulted from the growth of MLS from 14 to 20 teams, the Texas native has found a home in the Bay Area.
On Tuesday, Salinas cemented his future with the Earthquakes, signing a new contract that will go into effect next season and keep him in Black and Blue for many years to come, a decision that required very little contemplation.
"It was easy," Salinas told Center Line Soccer following Thursday's training session. "I love living in San Jose. I've been here for most of my career -- not all of it, but most of it. I love this area, I love my teammates, I love this stadium, the staff, the fans, so I was very thankful for this contract."
Salinas has made 173 appearances for the Earthquakes, 216 overall for his MLS career including one season with each of the Philadelphia Union and Vancouver Whitecaps, and now ranks third overall in games played for San Jose. With the arrival of Dominic Kinnear as his head coach to start the 2015 season, Salinas has been an integral part of the Quakes line-up, starting or appearing in every regular season game since that time.
"He is a good player," said Kinnear, "and you want to keep this roster together for as long as you can. We have a good roster that we are building, and you look at players who have been with the team for a good number of years, have been productive over the years, he gives us all of that."
The Earthquakes have made some other moves recently, singing Chris Wondolowski and Cordell Cato to new contracts ahead of next season. Securing the services of Salinas, though is not a regular starter, will give the squad the depth it needs to stay competitive in an ever increasingly challenging Western Conference.
"He is always available, which is the most important thing," continued Kinnear. "When guys get hurt and can't play, it doesn't help. He is reliable and you know what you are going to get from him. His attitude has been excellent, whether he is starting or not."
Against Orlando City last weekend, Salinas delivered in the most dramatic fashion, poking home a goal in the last minute of stoppage time to secure a 2-2 draw for San Jose at Camping World Stadium. For a match that was charged with the extra energy of a strong by grieving Orlando populace, the result was a big lift for the visiting Quakes and set up a solid week of training ahead of Saturday's rivalry match against the LA Galaxy at sold-out Stanford Stadium.
"I don't think it's difficult to get pumped up for this game," shared Salinas. "The Galaxy is an easy team to get up for, and especially when you are in front of 50,000 fans, it's easy to get motivated for this game. We're going to come out flying, and hopefully it results in some goals."
Salinas is likely to begin the Cali Clasico on the bench, like he did last Saturday at Orlando, but he will be one of the first called upon as a substitute to make life difficult for LA's defense. Since entering the league as a rookie in 2008, Salinas has terrorized opponents with his speed, probably his primary attribute.
"The one thing about Shea is that when he gets the ball, he drives at people and he gains you territory and gets you a little deeper into the attacking areas," described Kinnear. "Shea being able to run at guys and back them up helps us out and gives us time to get more bodies inside the box."
Salinas' special week includes a very important birthday for the Grapevine, TX native -- the Big Three-Oh. Such a milestone event in one's life usually revolves around revelry and celebration. But coming on the eve of the Earthquakes big game against the Galaxy, his plans are a bit more subdued.
"My wife's got a babysitter," admitted Salinas, "so we'll go out to dinner, maybe relax a little bit."
Not that outright party many plan for when they register three decades. It seems for Salinas that perhaps 30 is the new 40.
However, he doesn't see it that way, not in the middle of the season, not with the rival Galaxy in town and the all-important goal of securing another home result.
"Rivalries are first most a fan thing," said Salinas "but for us, especially this game, we are both in the middle of the table right now, looking for points, and the Stanford game has 50,000 fans cheering, so it makes it more meaningful. We need three points; we need to move up the table."
There is almost no doubt that Salinas will play a role Saturday evening. After all, in addition to playing every Quakes game in which Kinnear has been coach, Salinas has not missed a match dating back to July 11, 2014 against DC United -- a streak that has reached 68 consecutive games. Only goalkeeper David Bingham among Salinas's teammates has also played all 49 games since Kinnear's return to San Jose -- Salinas is the only field player to do so.
"He always shows you that he is ready to play," said Kinnear, "no matter what, and he approaches the game in a good way."
Salinas could be excused for slowing down, especially at his new ripe age, but that decline in pace has not been evident, and his ability to stay healthy has made him "Mr. Reliable" for selection. And with more soccer acumen than his early seasons as a professional, his overall game has never been better, even with recognition of the growing number of candles he will have to blow out on his birthday cake.
"I'm super-thankful for my health and fitness," said Salinas. "A lot of it is God-given, and genetics -- my dad is a fit and healthy guy. I always feel ready to go."
Scratch that earlier thought: For Salinas, perhaps 30 is the new 20.
"I also attribute it to the excellent job our staff has done of making sure we are lifting weights and staying strong," explained Salinas. "A big part of that is having this stadium and our own locker rooms and weight rooms has been a big part of that. The consistency of being able to work out every day, use the ice-bath every day, whereas at Buck Shaw, that wasn't as easily accessible. That's been a big part of it."
Talent, genetics, motivation, ability, and a hard-working attitude -- as fine a list of ingredients that can be assembled, and Salinas is taking every advantage of the final product of that athletic concoction.