Despite the off-field wrangling between Major League Soccer and the Players' Union over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, it was "business as usual" on the pitch, according to Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop this week. Continuing their preparations for the scheduled start of the 2010 season on March 27, the team continues to build on their extensive fitness training while increasingly introducing drills and scrimmages to their daily practices.
It has been hard to rate the players based solely on watching them run suicides and stadiums in prior weeks, so it has been a pleasant change to see everyone taking to the field on a regular basis. With that in mind, here are some of the highlights from this week:
- Ramiro Corrales, who coach Yallop confirmed on Thursday would wear the team captain's armband entering the regular season, has shown great intensity as a left side defender and winger. Some aggressive tackles in the scrimmages have solidified a problem position for the Quakes going back to last season. Corrales also appears to be a good role model for the rookie Justin Morrow with his efforts on the field.
- Bobby Convey continues to work on the left side of the field, often in conjunction with Corrales, and looks more involved in setting up the offense than in times past. He unleashed a couple long range blasts during shooting drills that drew plaudits from observers.
- Jason Hernandez appears fully recovered from his ankle surgery following last season. He is still not participating 100% of the time, but is showing his Quakes Defender of the Year of 2008 form when on the field. Spending time this week paired with rookie Ike Opara in the center of the defense, he also has not lost any of the vocal leadership that is his trademark.
- Simon Elliott, the only Earthquake heading to South Africa this summer, has had a solid preseason and shows all intentions of fighting for a spot in Yallop's Starting XI. With the New Zealand international expected to miss considerable time with the club when he leaves for World Cup preparations in May, it appears Elliott is hoping to make a memorable impression in training.
- Ryan Johnson, already getting positive attention for his efforts with the Jamaican National Team, is taking steps to fill some of the perceived holes in his game. Often criticized for a lack of foot skills in the past, Johnson has really worked on his technical abilities this off-season, and looks more comfortable not just holding the ball up in the offense, but creating space with his improving dribbling skills. The finishing skills are still there, as was clear during post-scrimmage shooting. Last season's Golden Boot winner for the Quakes looks primed to improve on his career best 11 goals in 27 starts in 2009.
Quakes coaching staff looks on as players participate in passing drills Thursday morning at WVC
Corrales, Opara, Hernandez, and Leitch take on Convey, Elliott, Ring, and Gjertsen as Coach Watson gives directions
Check back later for an update on some of the younger players that are making their case this preseason for minutes in the 2010 season...