The Earthquakes held their first practice session this morning following their return from a week in the Arizona desert. Making the switch down to Santa Clara from Oakland, the team immediately resumed the intense physical training that marked their two weeks at the Coliseum. For 30 minutes, the entire team -- coaches included -- ran the bleachers of Buck Shaw stadium. My knees ached just watching them!
All the players were present, including Ryan Johnson, fresh back from his time with the Jamaican National Team. RJ was in good spirits on the day, and shared some of his time after practice to talk about his latest efforts with Jamaica. He relished chance to play in the international exhibitions against Canada and Argentina, and was especially pleased to score his first goal for the Reggae Boyz. He also hopes to get called up for the next Jamaica friendly sometime in early March. I'll include the complete interview in the next Center Line Soccer podcast.
A new face to training, previously identified as "the unnamed trialist" from the two Arizona friendlies with the Kansas City Wizards, can now be revealed as Omar Jessey of Gambia. The slight-framed 17-year old displayed good quickness and technical ability in his two stints against the Wizards; however, the outside midfielder had some trouble with more physically opposing players. Jessey has spent the better part of the last three years in England with various clubs including Chelsea and Crystal Palace. General Manager John Doyle has expressed that the Quakes are doing what they can to help him gain eligibility to play in the United States - including a potential plea for political asylum. We'll keep you updated as that transaction moves forward.
Two other trialists join the Earthquakes this week -- more on them at a later date -- taking the number of players in training camp to 29. For you math majors out there, I'm sure you recognize that that is higher than the total number of roster slots allowed by MLS (20 senior and 4 developmental) in the expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement. Assuming the new CBA keeps the roster size the same for 2010, that means there will be a whole lot of competition for roster spots leading up to the season opener in late March. What has already been a grueling training camp with regard to physical fitness now includes the need to perform at a high level every day. Last week's official signings of Eduardo and Joey Gjertsen suggest two more potential roster openings are taken. Still no word on whether any of the talented rookie class will be tendered offers. At this point, only Generation Adidas signing Ike Opara is guaranteed a spot on the team.
Speaking of the Quakes first round draft pick, Opara made a great impression on the coaching staff and the select players I inquired with. The Wake Forest product had reached an agreement with the team prior to being drafted that he would be allowed to finish school this semester. He did get a few days of practice in with the team down in Phoenix, and also some playing time in the Saturday game against KC. Coach Yallop was very impressed with his vocal leadership from his central defender position, and sees little barrier to him making an immediate impact when he joins the team for good later this Spring. Cracking the expected starting duo (when healthy) of Brandon McDonald and Jason Hernandez will not be easy for the rookie, but indications suggest he will be giving second teamers Aaron Pitchkolan and Bobby Burling competition for the next position on the depth chart. I think the best way to look at Opara will be as a "summer transfer window signing." He'll take a few weeks to get up to speed with MLS play when he first arrives, but has the potential to make an impact over the second half of the season.
Well, that's it for today. I'll have more information in the coming days as the Earthquakes continue to train locally ahead of their departure to England in March. Also, the Center Line Soccer podcast will contain all the audio interviews I collect from training -- listen for them later this week as well. And as always, add your comments below with any questions you have for the Quakes training sessions -- I'll see what I can find out and include the answers in future posts.