[MLS] In his five USL seasons, Joey Gjertsen, 27, won MVP honors (2006) and two league championships (2006, 2009). The Washington state product signed with San Jose this past winter as a free agent, played the opener against Real Salt Lake as a sub, and went the full 90 last weekend on the right side of midfield in a 2-1 win at Chicago. Gjertsen, who expects to keep that starting spot Wednesday when the Quakes host RSL again in a U.S. Open Cup play-in match, spoke with Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney.
SOCCER AMERICA: You were one of the USL’s top players, so have there been any major adjustments to competing in MLS?
JOEY GJERTSEN: I’ve played some big opponents in my career over five years but going into this season with a new team in a new league, I’m kind of going in like a rookie. I’m wide-eyed and ready. I’m just going to work hard and prove that I can play here. I can't say I've been surprised by anything I've seen so far, I know a few of the guys here, so this is a team I wanted to play with.
SA: You were with Montreal last year when it reached the Concacaf Champions’ League quarterfinals. Was that competition the team’s priority as opposed to the league schedule?
GJERTSEN: Obviously, in the league you know you have 30 games or whatever it is. Every league game is important but if you lose you have more games after that. In Concacaf, if you lose you might be out right there. We didn’t approach them differently but everyone had that feeling of how important it was every single time we went out, and I think that’s why we were so successful during that run we had.
SA: USL teams always pump up for U.S. Open Cup games against MLS teams. You played for Montreal and Vancouver, and Canadian teams aren’t eligible for the competition, so this will be your first experience. What are you expecting against a team you played recently?
GJERTSEN: I’ve always wanted to play in it. I’ve watched other USL teams play in it and I like the tournament format. We had the Canada Nutrilite [competition], so we played Toronto a couple of times. That being a pretty big rivalry, there were some pretty intense games. That’s probably what’ll I expect in this tournament, maybe or maybe not in the early rounds, but certainly later on.
SOCCER AMERICA: After losing to RSL at home, 3-0, in the opener, you had a week off, then went to Chicago and beat the Fire, 2-1. How did that happen?
GJERTSEN:After a game like we had in our first game you want to get back on the field and prove that game was a fluke. We turned it around and had an off week, so we had two weeks of training, and all we could think about during those two weeks was that first game. We were eager to get to Chicago and show what we have and I think we did a good job with that after two weeks of very hard training.
SOCCER AMERICA: Javier Morales scored twice on spectacular strikes in the opener but he and Ned Grabavoy were injured last weekend, so the timing for this rematch seems to work in your favor.
GJERTSEN:Salt Lake won the title last year and we were tested early against them. I don’t think you can put too much into that result, I think we’re a better team than we showed there. At times, you do have to ignore everything that’s out there, because we know as a team you can have a good showing but all that matters is the result.
We knew what to expect, but we had a bad first half and a red card in the second half, so that didn’t help. They’re strong and dynamic in midfield and use that to their advantage. Morales was all over the field and had two great goals. We were prepared, we just didn’t perform well. We’ll be better this time around.
SOCCER AMERICA: San Jose missed the playoffs the past two years. When you first joined the team, did you sense an anxiety about getting to the postseason this season after two misses?
GJERTSEN: I was fortunate to go to [USL] teams that were successful when I got there, and when I was there we were very successful. It’s different here, this is a team that hasn’t made the playoffs, and I’ve been in the playoffs every year of my career.
The players know the situation, they hear about it every day from the media, but you can’t be thinking about the playoffs when they’re five or six months away. We just have to look at each game, and the result will take care of itself.