A few days after the San Jose Earthquakes began their preseason practices in late January, Nick Lima finally arrived. He had a good excuse: the second year defender was coming off a successful training camp with the U.S. men’s national team. Lima, though late to join his teammates, was already a step ahead of the group, and he couldn’t wait to implement the lessons learned as he prepared for the start of the 2018 MLS regular season.
“When you step on the field at that level, you realize what it takes and what goes into playing consistently at your best day in and day out,” Lima told Center Line Soccer. “There is not really room to regress. If you do take a step back, you’d better follow that with two steps forward. I didn’t see much time to regress at all, so it helps me bring a new mentality to prepare every day the same. To get ready for practice at a high level.
“There’s always something you can control in training, so if something does go wrong, because you are not going to be perfect everyday, you have to be ready. Jordan Morris, Gyasi Zardes -- you see what they do and what they bring each and every day, and do it with a good attitude, because if you’re not having fun, then why are you doing it. I think seeing guys have as much fun as they did there, but still be at a high level, was one of biggest takeaways for me. Bringing that quality back and being consistent with it, and then growing throughout the season again.”
Last season, Lima had a fantastic start to the season, even gaining the support of Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski for his Rookie of the Year candidacy. The rookie out of Cal became a dependable starter at right back, but an injury in the summer slowed him down, and a late season effort to get back in the line-up was aborted when the injury resurfaced. It was a tough year for Lima, but he learned a lot about himself and what it will take to have an even more successful second season in San Jose.
“The goal is to be on the field for every game,” Lima shared. “From every injury there is a silver lining: you learn new routines, new diets, all that kind of stuff that can help, as well as your recovery. And now I have that experience, and I can lead by example on and off the field. We have best person leading us by example in Wondo, so you can always take from that and do the same. Everyday, treat it like a game and go out there and prove that you belong there and really make an impact and help the team win because that your job. If you get put on the field, you’ve got to be able to do that. I’m pretty excited to get going.”
Lima will start for the Earthquakes in their season opener on Saturday against Minnesota United at Avaya Stadium, kick-off at 7:30 p.m. and he is poised for a breakout year following his offseason preparations. The defense last year was in shambles, especially on the road, allowing 60 goals total plus another five in the MLS Cup playoffs knockout round loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps, but the roster has been improved. New centerback starters Harold Cummings and Yeferson Quintana are expected to provide the Quakes much more stability in the center of the formation, and the move of Florian Jungwirth to defensive midfielder only strengthens the team’s core.
On the field, Lima is getting more and more comfortable as a leader, a lesson he learned in his time with the national team, and one that belies his youth. At only 23 years old, the full back has gained the respect of Wondolowski, a dozen years his elder, and he can’t wait to see what the defender has in store for 2018.
“Yeah, very exciting,” Wondolowski told Center Line Soccer. “He’s continuing to grow and I love what he’s done, especially in camp, I think that’s a good base for him to build on and I’m excited for this year. He’s continuing to grow, both on and off the field, and really becoming a leader, so it’s exciting to see.”
As the veteran on the team by a wide margin -- Lima used to watch the Quakes captain from the stands at Buck Shaw Stadium back in season’s past -- Wondolowski has warned the youngster to not get overly eager in year two. There is still a lot about the game he needs to learn, and his experience from his rookie season can’t be ignored.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things where you tell him to stay the course,” Wondolowski said. He’s so eager right now and he loves to work, but you remind him that it is a long season, and you want to be there at the end. Last year with the injury, he was so excited and wanted to get back early, but you have to stay the course. The training staff knows what it’s doing, so if you smart and keep that work ethic, you can continue to evolve in other ways as well.”
Lima has listened, and he shared that he knew what to listen for from his body. He also has paid keen attention to the coaching staff, especially new head coach Mikael Stahre, as he prepares for 2018.
“Last year, coming in at the very beginning, there was a message to just be you,” Lima said. “Don’t try to do something that didn’t get you here, don’t try to stretch too far from the player you are. It gave me a sense of relief when I was making my way into the line-up last year under Kinnear. And this year, it’s been you know the kind of player you are, and we want you to exploit your strengths.
“So now they are giving me more freedom to do what I’m good at so it’s good. And I’m not talking about the freedom, in the sense, that I have to stick to my role in the game, but it means to take those opportunities, like taking someone on one-on-one going forward, and running a little bit, which is what I enjoy.”
In full fitness and with a desire to improve on his impressive rookie season, Lima is excited for the challenge of the 2018 regular season.