Monterey Bay F.C. Head Coach Frank Yallop (left) and assistant coach Ramiro Corrales (right) welcome new player Rafael Baca to the club. | Photo courtesy Monterey Bay F.C.
SEASIDE, Calif. – Monterey Bay F.C. announced on Thursday the club had signed former Cruz Azul and San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Rafael Baca for the remainder of the 2023 USL Championship season with a club option for the 2024 season.
After nearly a decade in Liga MX the 33-year-old is headed back stateside to reunite with Head Coach Frank Yallop, assistant coach Ramiro Corrales and fellow midfielder Simon Dawkins – this time at Monterey Bay.
In 2011, the Tuxpan, Michoacán native signed his first professional contract with Major League Soccer side San Jose Earthquakes under then-manager Yallop after training with the team for several months. Upon signing, he joined an Earthquakes side that included Dawkins and team captain Corrales.
“It’s great to be back with Frank,” said Baca. “He was the coach that believed in me, and I hope we can continue to conquer accomplishments here at Monterey Bay. I’m excited to reunite with Rams and Simon as well and hope to achieve a championship together the way we did in San Jose – winning the Supporters’ Shield in 2012.”
Baca debuted for the Quakes shortly after signing against Philadelphia Union on July 9 before making his first start against Real Salt Lake on July 23. His first professional goal for San Jose came in a win over FC Dallas in the final match of his rookie season in 2011. Baca became a fixture in the middle for San Jose the next two seasons, including the club’s Supporters’ Shield winning season in 2012. He then started three of the club’s four Concacaf Champions League matches in 2013. Overall, Baca appeared in 88 matches for the Earthquakes and recorded two goals and eight assists across 6,550 minutes.
“I’m excited because I think he’s going to help the team of course, but also the players,” said Corrales. “The young guys like Adrian [Rebollar] and Walmer [Martínez], the experience he has on the field and the way he carries himself off the field, he’s going to help them out. We go way back – I met him when he was 22 years old, so I know the type of player that he is and the quality that he brings into the team. But not only that, the kind of person he is. That is a huge part of building a team. Character goes a long way and I think he’s the right guy to bring into this team.”
Following three seasons in MLS, Baca joined Liga MX side Cruz Azul ahead of the 2014 campaign. He made his first start for the Mexican club against UNAM Pumas at the esteemed Estadio Azteca on April 27 in his rookie season. By 2016, Baca was starting every match for Cruz Azul as a main cog in the midfield. Over the next several years, Baca helped lead Cruz Azul to several honors, including winning the Copa MX: Apertura in 2018, both the Supercopa MX and Leagues Cup in 2019, Liga MX: Guardianes in 2021, and Supercopa de la Liga MX in both 2021 and 2022. In total, Baca played over 22,700 minutes across 311 matches for the side, adding nine goals and eight assists for La Máquina.
“To bring in someone with Rafa’s experience is going to really help the team, the group, and the whole Club,” said Yallop. “For him to play over 300 games in Liga MX and win what he’s won, he’s just a consummate professional. I’ve known Rafa since 2011. When I first scouted him in college, I really liked him, he stood out. We brought him in to train with us at the Quakes and after one or two days we knew we needed to sign him. It took a while because of visa issues, but he was one of the best signings we ever made. He had a great couple of years with us before going on to have a fantastic career at Cruz Azul. Now, we’re reunited. We’re so happy and excited to have Rafa join us.”
During his time at Loyola Marymount University, Baca earned the captaincy as a sophomore and helped the school to its first-ever conference championship during his junior season in 2010. During his three years as captain, Baca was named First-Team All-West Coast Conference each season. Following his junior year, Baca was named to the short list for the Hermann Trophy, which is awarded every year to the top men’s and women’s collegiate soccer players in the United States.
“I’m excited to be back in the states after 10 years at Cruz Azul,” Baca continued. “It's a new beginning for me now here at Monterey Bay and I’m excited for the opportunity. I will definitely bring experience to the team, as well as leadership. I hope to motivate all of my teammates to believe that we can be champions.”