It has been a year full of surprises for the San Jose Earthquakes.
After finishing with the best record in the league last year, and bringing back the same core group of players for 2013, they currently sit in 14th place out of 19 teams with 12 games to go.
Their potent offense, led by 2012 MLS MVP Chris Wondolowski, has scored just 23 goals in 22 games this year, despite scoring 72 goals in 34 games in 2012.
But the biggest surprise of all has been one of the players who has been scoring their goals: Adam Jahn.
Jahn, a Davis Legacy and Jesuit High alum, is currently second on the team with four goals after being selected 15th in the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft.
Going into the preseason as a long shot to make the roster, Jahn has exceeded the expectations that anyone could have had for his rookie year. But that doesn’t mean he’s satisfied with how the season is going.
“Obviously, the personal success is always good, but it’s not the main focus. If the team’s not doing well, then no one is happy,” said the 22-year-old Jahn. “If I could switch personal success for team success, then I would, in a heartbeat.”
Meeting a hero
When Jahn signed with the Earthquakes, he had just a few choices for what number he would wear, as most of the squad was returning from the previous year.
One number that was available was 14, the same number that 35-year-old French World Cup winner Thierry Henry currently wears for the New York Red Bulls.
Jahn decided to wear No. 14 because of his childhood idol. In the second game of the season on March 10, Jahn made his first professional start wearing that number against New York in a nationally televised game on ESPN2.
With the Earthquakes down 1-0 in the 83rd minute thanks to a goal set up by Henry, Jahn went from supplemental draft pick afterthought to team hero.
Teammate Sam Cronin made a run through the left side of the box and played a waist-high cross to the back post that Jahn met with an acrobatic half-sliding, half-diving sideways kick that caused the ball to hit the bottom of the crossbar and end up in the back of the net.
Jahn immediately ran to the corner of the field and awkwardly fell while being dog-piled by teammates.
“It’s unreal,” he told mlssoccer.com that night. “I can’t describe it. I’m in shock right now.”
But he wasn’t done. Five minutes later, Jahn rose highest in the box and headed a corner kick off a defender’s hand. A penalty was called, and Wondolowski converted, giving the Earthquakes a 2-1 win against Henry’s Red Bulls.
Did Jahn ever think he would not only play in a game with Henry, but beat him as well?
“Never in a million years.”
After the game, Jahn’s older sister Erica spotted Henry in a hallway and the two exchanged greetings before heading their separate ways.
Earning a nickname
When the lanky, 6-foot-3 Stanford product came into training camp, most expected him to be a bruising athlete whose game was all about physicality.
When his team found that there was more to Jahn’s game than brute strength, goalkeeper coach Jason Batty bestowed upon him the nickname “Pillow Feet,” to describe his surprisingly soft touch.
“I think it’s pretty cool that people think I have a good touch,” said the two-time California Gatorade High School Player of the Year. “There could be worse nicknames. Funnily, it’s what most of the guys call me now.”
The “Pillow Feet” moniker has been uttered by broadcasters and pundits around the league, and it even inspired former Davis High midfielder Shannon Murphy to attend a game wearing actual pillows on her feet in support of Jahn.
After three more goals, two coming in important late situations, Jahn earned the nickname and the respect of his fans and peers alike.
A mediocre start to the season for the team led to the first rough patch of Jahn’s professional career when the Earthquakes and longtime coach Frank Yallop mutually agreed to part ways on June 7.
But as always, Jahn remained resilient, taking road bumps in life as they come.
“It hasn’t been too tough,” he asserted. “We were all sad to see Frank go. He’s a good coach and we all have a lot of respect for him.”
Any doubts that Jahn would be an odd man out in the new regime were quickly quashed when he earned four starts in the eight games played under interim coach Mark Watson.
Jahn hasn’t yet scored under Watson; some around the league are attributing this to Jahn hitting the proverbial “rookie wall.” But he remains fresh.
“We get a lot of rest and days off at the correct times so I never really get too overworked,” Jahn said. “I feel like the training staff has done a great job in keeping us healthy and strong.”
The only thing he isn’t used to yet is life as a full-time professional.
“After training, you have a lot of free time,” Jahn explained. “I kind of knew this going in but I didn’t fully understand it until I did it for a few months. You have a lot of down time during the day so you have to find things to keep yourself busy.”
A normal weekday for Jahn sees him report to training around 10 a.m. The team usually finishes between noon and 1 p.m., giving him ample time to do whatever he wants: usually reading, watching shows and movies on Netflix or visiting college friends in Stanford.
Where it began
During a rare weekend off in the middle of July, Jahn decided to make his way back to his hometown for his first public appearance in Davis as a professional soccer player.
More than 80 friends, family and fans flocked to the meet-and-greet session organized by his sister at the gym she works at — Davis Swim and Fitness.
Three friends who showed up attended his next game with front-row tickets provided by Jahn.
“Every time I talk to someone back home I always see if they want to come (to an Earthquakes game),” Jahn said. “The fact that it’s a two-hour drive away and it’s (a manageable distance) is great. It’s great to see them after the game as well.”
Jahn’s family attends nearly every home game with their club allocation of four tickets, but any tickets beyond that the local product pays for out of his own pocket.
Jahn is in a three-way race for MLS Rookie of the Year with DeAndre Yedlin, a flashy, blond fauxhawk-wearing right back for the Seattle Sounders, and Deshorn Brown, a gritty Jamaican forward for the Colorado Rapids and the only rookie with more goals than Jahn.
Yedlin is the odds-on favorite to win, but Jahn isn’t concentrating on that award as his main goal for the season.
He has a bigger goal: the playoffs.
“Once you get into the playoffs, anything can happen,” he said. “We’re just focusing on taking it one game at a time but we have the urgency that it’s a must-win situation. It’s coming down to crunch time.”
The Earthquakes currently sit three points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Regardless of whether they make the playoffs, Jahn will go back and complete the final two classes he needs to graduate from Stanford with a degree in management science and engineering with a minor in German.
After that, he will focus on his ultimate career goals.
“My main goals are to play for the national team and in the World Cup,” Jahn said. “It would be really awesome to play in the (UEFA) Champions League at some point. I set high goals for myself, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Jahn will be considered a long shot to meet either of these goals, but just six months ago he was a long shot to just make the San Jose Earthquakes roster.
We all know how that one turned out.
Notes: Adam Jahn has played in 18 games this season, tied for sixth most on the team. He has started 11 of those games. His four goals are second in the league among rookies behind Deshorn Brown’s six. The MLS rookie scoring record is 11 goals, accomplished by former Chicago Fire forward Damani Ralph in 2003.
— Evan Ream is a freelance journalist based in Davis. Follow him on Twitter @EvanReam