The Earthquakes appear to be changing more dramatically than expected when the season ended in October.
Rafael Baca, who was the fulcrum of the central midfield for the past two seasons, has signed with Mexico City giant Cruz Azul, according to the team's website.
Baca joined fellow Major League Soccer players Jose Villarreal and Michael Farfan at an introductory news conference this weekend in Mexico City. Cruz Azul announced the signing of six players ahead of the Mexican league's four-month "Clausura" season that runs January through April.
An Earthquakes spokesman said Sunday the player is under contract through the 2014 season. Baca, 24, did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment. He made $49,500 last season, according to data from the MLS Players Union.
Reports of Baca's departure comes on the heels of the Earthquakes' trading fullback Justin Morrow to Toronto FC for allocation money. Also, general manager John Doyle said last week that he expects All-Star fullback Steven Beitashour to seek a bigger payday in Europe instead of re-signing with the Quakes.
Outside midfielder Marvin Chavez, who played sparingly at the end of last season, also has told Honduran media that he wants out of San Jose. The speedy Chavez said he injured his knee after colliding with a teammate in training last week with the Honduran national team. The midfielder said he would not need surgery but Chavez also was slowed by an MCL sprain at the start of the 2013 MLS season.
The Earthquakes took two defenders in the re-entry draft last week and are hoping to make some more moves before training camp opens next month.
Baca's status was unclear before the latest development. Doyle said the team was looking to bolster the midfield in the offseason with an offensive playmaker. Baca, a Mexican native who grew up in the Los Angeles area, had formed a strong partnership in the midfield with Sam Cronin. He appeared in 79 games and scored two goals after going undrafted in MLS in 2011 out of Loyola Marymount.
The midfielder came to San Jose after meeting Quakes assistant coach Ian Russell at a funeral of a former Loyola player from Cupertino. He performed so well at a tryout the club took a chance though Baca took an international roster slot until he got a green card last year.
Baca was a three-time All-West Coast Conference first-team selection and ended his LMU career as second all-time in games played (79) and assists (19) for the Lions.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.