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Before they became teammates on the San Jose Earthquakes, Nick Lima and Jackson Yueill were fierce rivals in the Pac-12. Lima played at Cal and Yueill at UCLA, pitting the squads against one another twice a season. All told, Lima and Yueill faced off against each other four times.
“It was always a rivalry playing UCLA,” Lima says. “We didn’t like playing the guys from SoCal, that’s for sure.”
Thankfully, the bad blood is a thing of the past.
“We were rivals before here, but we have a good relationship,” Yueill says. “Now it’s awesome we’re on the same team.”
Lima, a 5-foot-9, 177-pound fullback, and Yueill, a 5-10, 165-pound midfielder, are two of the rising stars for a Quakes team that is in position to capture one of the six playoff spots in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference.
As this story goes to press, the Quakes are above the cutoff line—barely. After dropping Saturday’s game 4-0 against D.C. United, they desperately need to win against the Chicago Fire on Wednesday night at Avaya Stadium. Chicago has much to play for as well in the Eastern playoff hunt, but with conference rivals Houston and Dallas also in pursuit, the Quakes could drop to eighth place by the time they kick off in San Jose. (Update: San Jose dropped the match 4-1 to Chicago.)
Luckily, they’ve played well at home lately, and Lima and Yueill are raring to extend the season.
“You get that first taste of what it would mean to make the playoffs, and it’s almost like blood in the water now,” Lima says.
“We’re all buying into our work rate,” Yueill adds, “playing for each other and working for each other.”
Both players have made a nice transition to the Quakes after standout college careers. The Quakes selected the 20-year-old Yueill with the No. 6 selection in January’s MLS Draft, three weeks after signing the 22-year-old Lima to a multiyear contract through the homegrown-player rule.
Although Lima lives in Oakland and Yueill in San Jose, they often hang out away from the field. “We kind of clicked right away,” Yueill says, noting that it helps to be friends with someone who understand the rigors and demands of the pro game.
“There was no time to adjust,” says Lima, who played the last two seasons for San Jose’s Premier Developmental League affiliate, Burlingame FC. “My goal coming in was to play right away. I didn’t want to take a year to get ready. You just have to be smart about it and take advice from other guys. I had to stick to what kind of got me signed in the first place. You can always say you’re young and you make mistakes, but you have to make a difference. You can’t make excuses, and you have to give reasons why you deserve to be out there.”
Lima has given Quakes coach Chris Leitch plenty of reasons to be among San Jose’s starting 11, including his strength with the ball and attacking style. Yueill didn’t see much action at the start of the season, but he’s come on strong of late and is projected to be in the starting lineup against D.C. United.
“The transition to the pros has been a good step for me,” Yueill says. “Everyone is stronger, faster and smarter, and the consistency is what really makes it tough. At the professional level, you have to show up 100 percent in every practice and in every game. That’s a big challenge both physically and mentally, especially over the grind of a long season.”
Since teams in the MLS play matches once or twice a week, there’s plenty of down time for the players. In a typical week, games are played on Saturday, with the rest of the week consisting of practices, strength-training sessions and conditioning.
Yueill fills a lot of that down time gaming.
“I enjoy playing a lot of video games,” he says. “I don’t go to the beach all that much or do all these extra things outside of my house. When I was in college, a lot of my down time was spent studying. Now that I’m not in school, I’m playing video games.”
Lima couldn’t have asked for much more than playing and living where all of his family members reside. Becoming a pro soccer player was in the works from his earliest days, as Lima started kicking and throwing soccer balls at the age of 3.
“My parents didn’t have to introduce me to the sport because I picked it up on my own,” he says.
What began as a college rivalry has since developed into a close friendship as teammates, and Yueill still remembers the first time the two squared off.
“I had possession of the ball and thought I could dribble past him,” he says, “but I didn’t realize how fast he was, and he caught up to me. I couldn’t believe it.”
Both players have plans for the offseason, but for now the only concern is extending the current one and making the playoffs.
“Hopefully we can extend the season and make our offseason a shorter one,” Lima says.
Hope these athletes stand during the anthem!! Awake now?