With the rain showers finished for the time being, the San Jose Earthquakes practiced this morning in earnest ahead of Wednesday's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play-in game against Real Salt Lake. Nearly everyone was in action on the Buck Shaw Stadium pitch, as the team split into two squads for a full-field scrimmage. Missing this week is defender Ike Opara, who has returned to Wake Forest as part of his drive to complete his studies this semester. New signing Scott Sealy spent much of the session on the sidelines, but is not suffering from any apparent injuries.
We didn't see the usual Starting XI versus reserves match-up that is common during midweek practices. Rather, we saw a relatively balanced set of teams competing in the late scrimmage. Lining up for the "black" squad -- which is most likely the players that will start against RSL tomorrow night -- were the following:
Cornell Glen -- Chris Wondolowski
Justin Morrow -- Javier Robles -- Ramon Sanchez -- Joey Gjertsen
Ramiro Corrales -- Brandon McDonald -- Bobby Burling -- Chris Leitch
Coach Frank Yallop told reporters after training that he felt his line-up against RSL would provide a great chance to secure passage to the next elimination game against either FC Dallas or DC United.
"By no means is it a weakened side at all," said Yallop, defending what some might want to label a second-team line-up. "I think it is a very strong line-up. We're going to play a different system and I am ready to see how it goes. I am expecting this team to do really well and win."
Yallop stressed that he is working with the deepest and most complete roster he has had since Quakes 2.0 started in 2008. That luxury gives him the ability to pick players that are tested and ready for matches that count. Additionally, with the U.S. Open Cup match sandwiched between two MLS regular season games, players do not need to play in all 3 matches in order to field a team capable of winning. Yallop added that he wants his club to find victory against RSL as well as collect all 3 points against the New England Revolution this weekend. Perhaps answering the question I posed yesterday -- Yallop's comments tell me that the Cup game tomorrow is being given relevancy and not being treated as a distraction.
The "orange" squad contained the rest of the roster, with assistant coach Ian Russel filling in at right back to make up the numbers. BTW, Russel had a couple nice crosses from overlapping runs that hearkened back to his Quakes days in the early 2000's. Included on the "orange" team was Eduardo, who is not expected to play tomorrow after all, even though he is fully recovered from a hip injury suffered in pre-season.
"He's still not 100%," shared Yallop when questioned on whether Eduardo will take to the field Wednesday evening. "His injury status is fine, but his fitness is not good. I'd like to see him be a substitute tomorrow, but I think I'd have to talk him into doing it. He wants to make sure that he is 100% fit and ready, so when the fans see him he looks good. I think that is important to him."
A player that is getting a lot of attention for his athleticism is Omar Jassey (side note -- the spelling of his last name is still unclear, and I will continue to spell it this way until I am given a definitive spelling from the club. Apparently some issues stemming from his birth certificate and ITC.) The young Gambian will be on the substitutes' bench against RSL, and may see the field later in the game according to Yallop. Jassey was quite effective and very entertaining in the SCU friendly last week, and has made great strides with the Quakes since joining early in pre-season. While still in a work in progress, Yallop is pleased with the seventeen-year-old's progress to date.
Goalkeeper Jon Busch looks to make his Earthquakes' debut tomorrow night, as Joe Cannon spent most of the day training on the side with goalkeeper coach Jason Batty. Cannon is on track to make the start against the Revs on Saturday; it sure is nice to have a ‘keeper the quality of Busch as your back-up. The former Fire netminder has a great presence on the field, with a constant stream of directives to his defenders keeping everyone on the same page. Two former MLS Goalkeepers of the Year? What a nice problem to have for Yallop and the Earthquakes.
Lastly, as the players were breaking at the end of training, a shoot-out drill commenced at the South Goal as is common at all practice sessions. After Andrew Weber called it a day, Ramiro Corrales stepped between the posts and challenged the other players to beat him with their best shots. Flashing some moves more common from Joe Cannon, Corrales made some nice diving saves off blasts from Chris Wondolowski, Joey Gjertsen, Bobby Burling, and others. With every save, his confidence grew and he begged the shooters to get one past him. It was a nice moment at the end of a tough training session for the Quakes captain -- and a refreshing sight to see the players loose and confident coming off the win against Chicago after two tough weeks following the RSL loss.