When Ramiro Corrales began his MLS career in 1996, Rafael Baca was 6 years old.
Today Corrales and Baca are simpatico players for the Earthquakes -- hard workers, humble, with soccer seemingly in their souls.
The hot Quakes (12-4-4) host FC Dallas (4-9-7) Wednesday night at Buck Shaw Stadium in the MLS Western Conference. The first-place club, which trounced second-place Real Salt Lake 5-0 four days ago, looks for a better showing than its 0-0 tie against the same Dallas team 11 days ago.
Corrales, 35, an outside back and the Quakes' all-time leader in games played (310), quickly developed a bond with Baca, 22, after the midfielder arrived last season as a rookie.
"When he got here I'd always talk to him, try to help him out, give him some pointers," said Corrales, who has four goals and six assists in 24 appearances against Dallas. "He listens and he's learning, but he's a key part of this team."
Baca, a former Loyola Marymount captain, said Corrales emphasized the importance of maintaining possession at the pro level. Baca admires Corrales' durability, comportment, and his desire to win. They're friends.
"He is a great role model and what a long career for a player should look like," Baca said of his roommate on road trips. "I always look up to him, admire and respect him a lot."
Baca showed his value against Salt Lake, commanding center stage with fellow center midfielder Sam Cronin, a third-year pro. The busyduo, and fellow midfielders, basked in space created by speedy wingers Shea Salinas and Marvin Chavez.
Baca and Corrales, a former forward and ex-U.S. national team player, have much in common -- zesty playing styles, dedicated approaches and similar ethnic backgrounds.
Baca's hometown is near Morelia in Michoacan, Mexico, but he has lived in California since age 7. Corrales, who attended North Salinas High, lived in Mexico during his childhood. His family is from Culiacan in northwestern Mexico, the largest city in the state of Sinaloa.
"Sometimes I get to hang out with him and his family (in Salinas) and that's always fun," Baca said. "We go everywhere together. I have learned a lot from him off the field as well as on the field. It's made me a better player."
Yallop said Baca has played every midfield position, and played them well.
"I just think his energy and his work rate and his will to do all the 'hit-and-running' and all the dirty work, it's great," Yallop said of Baca.
Still nimble in the twilight of his career, Corrales, a 14-year MLS veteran, has five assists this season to rank second behind Steven Beitashour (six) among Quakes' defenders.
Corrales sat out the win over Salt Lake after picking up two yellow cards in a 0-0 draw with FC Dallas on July 7. His selection last week to the MLS All-Star Game on July 25 in Philadelphia lifted his spirits.
"When they told me Friday about the news, it's great news," he said. "Not only that, but the team won and that's the most important thing for me."
Like Baca, Yallop appreciates Corrales, the player and the man.
"Just an all-around good guy -- a great leader," Yallop said. "The guys like him. He plays every game as if it were his last. He really tries. You can't ask for more from a player, and he has talent. He's a good player."
Baca would wholeheartedly agree.
- Forward Alan Gordon stepped in strongly for Steven Lenhart (concussion symptoms) against Salt Lake, scoring his seventh goal in his fourth start. "Everything was clicking," Gordon said after the game. "I'm trying to do my best Lenhart impersonation. We've got such a great relationship and such a good team atmosphere, it doesn't matter which one of us is in. I know Steven was cheering me on, and I do the same for him when he's out there."