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San Jose Earthquakes 2020 player postmortem: Nick Lima

Fullback remained underrated to the end of his Quakes tenure.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at San Jose Earthquakes Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Lima returned for his fourth season with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2020, the homegrown fullback one of the best-kept secrets on the squad outside of San Jose.

I’ll lay my cards on the table here from the start: I think Lima is one of the best right backs in MLS. His defense is underrated because he’s never played on a really tight defense and so the numbers don’t look great. He stays on his feet and doesn’t rack up cards. He’s possibly the best crosser in the entire league, someone whose pinpoint service is a wonder to behold.

And while he played a lot in 2020, it’s safe to say his style of play didn’t fully mesh with Matias Almeyda’s, and it was another year of a “square peg in a round hole” situation.

Here were Lima’s stats in 2020:

Nick Lima 2020 Earthquakes Statistics

2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 20 19 1,531 2 2 16 6 2 0
MiB Knockouts 2 2 150 0 0 2 1 0 0
Playoffs 1 1 120 0 0 3 1 1 0
Total 23 22 1,801 2 2 21 8 3 0

While I think most players on the squad really fed off Almeyda’s man management and desire to make energy and passion the guiding principles on the team, Lima’s own energy and passion, while strong, never seemed to be on the same wavelength completely. I don’t do astrology, but maybe their signs are in conflict or something, I don’t know.

I spoke to Lima during the season and while he was diplomatic, he was not afraid to tout himself as an international-caliber right back — while he was playing left back for the Quakes. He was still pretty good as a left back, and perhaps getting some minutes on the other side will prove beneficial down the line in his career, but I have to agree with him on his preference to play right back. Why take a top right back and move him to left back?

Nevertheless, he was nearly automatic in the lineup, getting a few games off in September but otherwise a constant, usually as a starter. With the team playing more big switches in transition than crosses, he didn’t really show his best attributes in attack, although he did chip in with a few goals and assists, and his best defense came after he moved back to right back in the back half of the season and Marcos Lopez went back in the lineup at left back. In that run, Lima had games against the likes of the LA Galaxy when he shut down Cristian Pavón when the Argentine was on a roll, and he showed his defense hadn’t atrophied in a challenging system.

The uneasy alliance between Lima and the Earthquakes has come to an end, with the player traded to the expansion Austin FC ahead of the 2021 season. Credit to the Earthquakes for waiting for a truly monster return package, the kind of allocation money only an expansion team can pony up, because I sincerely think GMs around the league were on the phone with Jesse Fioranelli regularly over the past couple years, trying to get him to trade Lima to them. It was a risk to bide their time, and in the end, Lima got a fresh start, which I think he truly wants, and the Earthquakes get a nice bundle of cash.

Of course, we’ll see if parting ways with a genuinely good player is going to be the right on-field move in the long run. The Quakes have signed a new right back, Luciano Abecasis, presumably to start, but I don’t think it will be all that easy to replace Lima, honestly. Perhaps everyone will be happy, Lima will play in a more meat-and-potatoes system in Austin and really blossom, and maybe Abecasis will be a better fit in Almeyda’s scheme and everyone will thrive. I think the good news is even though Lima didn’t seem to fully fit in the Quakes lineup the last couple years, everyone seemed to part on good terms, everyone got what they wanted in the end.

Still, as a local product, it’s hard to see Lima move on. Hopefully he will thrive, although hopefully not entirely against the Earthquakes. Best wishes to him in his next chapter.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.