SAN JOSE -- In a way Medhi Ballouchy came home when recently traded to the Earthquakes by the New York Red Bulls.
The Bay Area amounts to "home" as much as anywhere for the well-traveled Moroccan.
Ballouchy, 29, graduated from Gunn High in Palo Alto and attended Santa Clara University before embarking on a successful career in Major League Soccer that began in Salt Lake City in 2006.
To get traded is "always bittersweet," Ballouchy said after scoring in a Reserve League game Tuesday. "Once I found out it was San Jose I was excited."
But he also has entered a difficult phase of his seven-year pro career. Ballouchy is trying to break into a crowded midfield that has been instrumental in the Earthquakes (16-6-5) rise to the top of the MLS standings.
After playing against the Los Angeles Galaxy reserves he might have only a cameo role Thursday night when San Jose plays host to Mexico side San Luis FC at 7:30 p.m. Buck Shaw Stadium. Coach Frank Yallop plans to play his starters for a stretch because the team doesn't return to MLS action until Sept. 15 against Chivas USA.
For now Ballouchy must wait his turn as midfielders Rafael Baca, Marvin Chavez, Sam Cronin, Simon Dawkins and Shea Salinas command most of the playing time.
Also, Khari Stephenson and Brad Ring have proved to be capable fill ins. But Yallop said the team acquired Ballouchy for the long haul.
"He's instrumental in a really high-tempo possession game,"
By trading for the Moroccan on July 30 the Quakes signaled they are building for the future as much as trying to win the 2012 Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup titles. They sent New York an international slot and conditional draft pick for 2013.
The attacking midfielder understands his role on a team enjoying a magical run.
"Come in and make them be better" in practice or games, he said. "Right now the team is winning games so I can't complain in a way and I can't ask for too much."
Ballouchy has worked so hard to follow his father and uncle as soccer pros, he won't let the third trade in seven years deflate him.
"Medhi's story is the ultimate in MLS," his brother Ahmed Ballouchy said Wednesday. "At16, he had to make it on their own."
Ballouchy left Casablanca, Morocco, as a teen to join his brother and an uncle in Denver. The family wanted him to earn a scholarship at an American university. But the teenager mostly wanted to play professionally.
He spent one year at South High in Denver where Ballouchy worked weekends at his brother's restaurant. He met John Allen of Palo Alto at a tournament in Dallas in 2001.
Allen, a software developer at the Stanford School of Medicine, had an under-19 youth team in the Bay Area. His youngest son had just left for Cal and Allen's wife was in England assisting her ailing mother.
Ballouchy joined Allen and a handful of Spanish-speaking players in a two-bedroom, one-bath home in Palo Alto.
"We turned our house into a mini soccer academy," Allen said.
The others played for Canada College on the Peninsula. Allen stressed speaking English and academics. At Gunn, Ballouchy played on a team that also featured former MLS players Andrew Jacobson, who currently is with FC Dallas, and Matt Marquess, who briefly played for Kansas City and now coaches at the De Anza Force club.
Ballouchy went to Creighton for a year and helped the Bluejays reach the College Cup in 2002. But the midfielder transferred to Santa Clara because he didn't care for Nebraska. He was West Coast Conference player of the year in 2005. Then Real Salt Lake took him second overall in the MLS draft.
Real traded Ballouchy to the Colorado Rapids, which in 2010 shipped him to New York. As a result, Ballouchy has played with some of the league's best players as his game has improved.
"He plays a calm, quick, possession game which adds to our team," Yallop said.
And even if he won't move into the starting lineup this season unless one of the Quakes' midfielders suffers a serious injury, Ballouchy embraces the chance to relaunch his career in the Bay Area.
"It's as much as a homecoming as he can have," John Allen said.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/elliottalmond.