San Jose Earthquakes players bond over NorCal roots

SAN JOSE (KTVU) -- The Earthquakes aren’t just the Bay Area’s team in name. They are so to their very core, with four of their 11 starters hailing from Northern California.

"I believe people in the community really identify with home grown talent," said team General Manager Jesse Fioranelli. "I believe they identify with these players even more than they do with a big signing because it's one of their own."

Star forward -- and Danville native -- Chris Wondolowski agrees.

"I think it's a great thing," he said. "NorCal is a hotbed (and) a great community for soccer. It’s great that we get to play for the home team, that we have that love and passion that goes even deeper."

That hometown connection is also the basis for some serious bonding that is good for chemistry on and off the field.

"We grew up doing similar things,” says Tommy Thompson, who is from Loomis. We "grew up watching the Giants, so there definitely is a comradery that comes from being in the same area."

"You can talk about some things that happen only in the Bay Area," said Nick Lima, a Castro Valley native and former Cal star. "There's a few jokes that go on that other people won't get. You're from NorCal; you can always talk about the traffic that's for sure."

The quakes NorCal pipeline isn’t just fortuitous, it’s by design.

There is actually a mechanism in place that allows MLS teams to develop and sign local players without subjecting them to the draft.

This is a talent-rich region, and the team can now harvest that talent early through their academy, which is made up of 6 teams that span various age groups.

It creates a conduit, for top players like Thompson and Lima, all the way up to the first team.

"It is a unique opportunity for MLS by being able to go down to ages of 12 and above, to ensure that the players slowly but surely year for year can grow an understanding of the game, a method of how we would like to develop players, communicate with each other, and ultimately put them into a position to be mature enough to join the Quakes here at Avaya," Fioranelli said.

And MLS actually incentivizes teams to keep their young players at home.

"MLS is a salary cap league,” said Technical Director Chris Leitch. "We have certain roster spots. A home grown player doesn't fit into the salary cap as another player would. He also doesn't his the roster in the same way. So, essentially, home grown players are ‘off the books’ a little bit. This gives the club and the player time to make sure the player is getting accustomed to life as a professional."

The result is wins across the board, which benefits the fans, the players, the organization and the league.

By KTVU sports reporter Scott Reiss.