Under a threatening sky at the Oakland Coliseum Saturday afternoon, the San Jose Earthquakes stormed to a convincing 3-0 win against local club Real San Jose. A first half tally from newly re-signed Chris Wondolowski, followed by second half strikes from Ismael Ibarra and Joey Gjertsen completed the scoring for the Quakes in their first match of the preseason. Rookie Brad Ring anchored the midfield on the day and earned man-of-the-match honors for his quality and consistency of play.
Resting all of his regular starters, Coach Frank Yallop sent out a mixture of reserves and rookies to take on RSJ. With roster spots at a premium going into the season, this match gave the second-team players a chance to make an impression on the coaching staff. "It was good to see some of the guys we drafted and some of the younger guys in a game," said Yallop. "We haven't played in four or five months, so it was a good opportunity."
A couple notable standouts for the Earthquakes were strikers Quincy Amarikwa and Joey Gjertsen along with central midfielders Brad Ring and Chris Wondolowski. Ring, the Quakes' second round selection in last season's MLS Super Draft, looked poised with the ball and executed a fine array of quality passes. "It felt great to get out there today," said Ring. "Toward the end of the game my legs were feeling a bit heavy. We've had a long and difficult two weeks of practice, but it felt really good to play again."
Brad Ring sat out most of last year recovering from an undisclosed hip injury - one that had a number of medical specialists perplexed as to how best to treat. Instead of pursuing a surgical option, Ring decided to shut down any soccer related activities, and instead rest his body for the better part of 2009. By October, with the pain subsiding, he returned to the playing field and was a regular participant in Earthquakes practices. "Last season was such a frustrating year for me personally. But, I got through it - got healthy - got fit again - and now I'm back to prove myself to the coaches and the team. Hopefully I can earn a spot on the roster." Early indications are that he has a good shot of doing just that.
Chris Wondolowski joined Ring in the center of the midfield for the duration of the game. While he was mainly used as a forward last season, Wondolowski made the adjustment to midfield with ease. After scoring the first goal of the game in the 20th minute on a deflected corner kick, Wondo settled into the role of playmaker alongside Ring. "It was great playing with Brad today in the center of the midfield. He has a great soccer mind, and it made my job a lot easier. I was very happy with my play on the day."
Wondolowski continued his fine form in the second half as he assisted on the third goal of the game from Joey Gjertsen. The former Montreal Impact player played the entire match for the Quakes, splitting his time between left wing and striker. While he has not officially been announced as a member of the Earthquakes, the team is confident Gjertsen will be added to the roster once the league finalizes the details of his contract. His status with the Quakes hasn't stopped him from impressing all week in practice, and in Saturday's match against Real San Jose. Yallop was quick to praise the attacking midfielder; "He's a good and nifty player around the box. He makes good decisions and he's a great finisher. He looked really good today."
Gjertsen not only completed the third score in the match, but also flashed two other shots just past the goal. Starting the game as a left winger, he worked together with rookie left back Justin Morrow to create numerous chances in the opponent's half of the field. In fact, Morrow impressed as well, especially going forward, and earned a nod of confidence from Yallop. "In MLS it is vital for the players to be comfortable at more than one position. You seem to get more chances to play when you can do that. Morrow is one of those - he can play left back or left midfielder, sometimes both. He has the tools and the desire to do both; time will tell how successful he is as a professional."
Morrow did seem to tire over the course of the match, but that looked true for the rest of his teammates as well. Unlike in previous seasons, Yallop and his coaching staff have preached fitness drills over the first two weeks of training camp. Actual soccer workouts have been limited, with the match against Real San Jose being the longest sustained on-ball training for most of the Quakes this preseason. This was not by accident; rather, this was the plan from the beginning of training camp. "We've been pushing them hard, so they are very tired. It's been a solid start with all the fitness work," Yallop explained. "We hope this will help us stay clear of injury, which, as you know, was a big deal for us last year. We want the players to have a strong base and core to help prevent other leg, knee, or ankle injuries later on."
Even with the focus of late on fitness training, the team looked sharp over the course of Saturday's game. While their opponent was clearly overmatched, the experience went well for all players involved. The 3-0 win against Real San Jose provided a nice end to the two-week training session, and suggests that 2010 has started on the right track.
Earthquakes Notes: The Earthquakes leave on Sunday for Phoenix, Arizona, where they will conduct a week-long training camp that will include two preseason games with the Kansas City Wizards on Wednesday and Saturday. Coach Yallop plans to expand the player pool for those Arizona friendly matches; "The first team guys will definitely get a run-out in those games. We'll mix in the rookies and the rest as well. It will be nice to see them playing with the senior players." • • • First round draft pick Ike Opara will also make an appearance in the desert. The rookie is taking a break from Wake Forest to join the Quakes before heading back to school when the team returns to California. • • • A team representative confirmed that the Earthquakes will spend ten days in London at the Tottenham Hotspur FC's training grounds. The team hopes to participate in some preseason matches while in England, but nothing has been scheduled at this time. Earthquakes owner Lew Wolff has stated his desire to hold a summer friendly in the Bay Area with Spurs during the EPL club's off-season, but no plans to that effect have been made to date.
San Jose Earthquakes Lineup: Andrew Weber (Mike Graczyk 40), Justin Morrow, Aaron Pitchkolan, Troy Roberts, Evan Brown, Joey Gjertsen, Brad Ring, Chris Wondolowski, Steve Beitashour, Andrew Hoxie (Ismael Ibarra 40), Quincy Amarikwa (Andrew Hoxie 63).
Scoring Summary: SJ: Chris Wondolowski (Aaron Pitchkolan, Joey Gjertsen) 20; Ismael Ibarra (Quincy Amarikwa) 55; Joey Gjertsen (Ismael Ibarra, Chris Wondolowski) 58.