By Kevin Smith
For Brandon Barklage his sixth season in Major League Soccer could be a career-defining year.
Barklage (CBC/SLU) has yet to see a minute of MLS action this year with the San Jose Quakes thanks to a nagging hip injury but the expectation is his new club will look to the now veteran player to shore up is backline.
San Jose acquired Barklage prior to the start of this season through the league’s re-entry draft after he spent the last two seasons with the New York Red Bulls.
It was in New York where Barklage became a regular starter, cracking the starting XI in 20 games in 2013. He was integral in the Red Bulls turnaround mid-way through the season that propelled them into the playoffs only before a first-round exit on the hands of the Houston Dynamo.
He was able to crack the starting lineup on a consistent basis after battling through injuries with his initial club DC United. Now with San Jose, Barklage is convinced his time in the Big Apple is what has set him up nicely to make the next step in his career development.
“I feel like I was able to prove myself as an MLS player,” he said. “ Now I’m ready to take that role as a veteran leader and cement my spot as an anchor on the backline.”
The memories of New York carry over from beyond the pitch for Barklage as well. He acknowledged that getting a chance to be a teammate of a world class player like Thiery Henry showed him what it meant to be a professional everyday, but getting to know him and call him a friend is something he will cherish forever.
“Seeing how he trained ever single day really taught me a lot about what separates a true professional from others, and what separates world class talent from the rest of us,” he said. “But seeing what kind of guy he was away from the field and knowing I will have that bond forever with him is pretty special.”
Now Barklage’s efforts are focused on San Jose and helping a team shore up its defense and become a tittle contender. The squad already features one of America’s most prolific goal scores in Chris Wondolowski. Shoring up the San Jose defense and moving from the eastern conference to the western are challenges Barklage is excited to face.
“The western conference I think has more teams that play attacking soccer and are always looking to press and score,” he said. “Defenses are always under pressure and if we can become an elite unit this team will go far.”
Moving conferences also means moving families but Barklage said he and his wife love their new home of Santa Cruz and have been lucky with the stops he’s had along the way during the early phase of his career.
“I started my career in DC and then was in New York before going out to San Jose,” he said. “I’m a Midwest guy but we’ve been blessed with the places we have been able to call home along the way.”
Growing up in St. Charles Barklage is in even more rarified air among the growing list of pros who have come out of the St. Louis region.
“I think there is a different mentally and mindset with players who come form St. Charles when compared to the rest of the metro area,” he said. “We are much more blue collar types and Brad Davis certainly leads the way in that style of play. I’m proud of my roots and some of my fondest memories of the game are from back then at CBC or training sessions with Tommy Howe.”
Only time will tell if the 2014 season is a bellwether year for Brandon Barklage.
Despite the hip issues out of the gate he is confident once he is inserted into the starting lineup he will be able to prove his worth for his new club and coach and he can cement his place as a permanent fixture in the MLS.
“It’s not going to be easy but I’m ready for the challenge of what lies ahead.”
Publisher’s note – Barklage has taken the field for San Jose as can be seen in the picture above. He started and played the full 90 minutes in San Jose’s first game of the season which was 1-1 tie against Mexican side Toluca in the teams’ CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal back on March 11th. His injuries have kept him out since then. Once recovered he’ll likely earn plenty of minutes as this analysis of San Jose’s loss at Sporting KC Saturday showed the need for Barklage’s experience at the right back position.