Tuesday was not only MLS roster compliance day (see previous Center Line Soccer article), but it was also the first day of training for the San Jose Earthquakes since their return from a 10-day training trip to England. With the usual group of players going through a relatively relaxed session, the news wasn’t about who was there, but rather about who wasn’t. The first obvious omission was midfielder Tony Donatelli, who was waived by the club today in order to free up space on the senior roster. The former Montreal Impact player had hoped to crack the first team, but failed to do so in the preseason, and will now await his fate in Wednesday’s MLS waiver draft.
A few others were also missing, but all were excused from practice from the coaching staff. Khari Stephenson is out of town sorting his personal effects ahead of a move to San Jose and is expected back with the team later this week. Andre Luiz and Steven Lenhart were also not in attendance on Tuesday, with Andre Luiz continuing his rehabilitation away from the NTF, and Lenhart expected back on the field tomorrow. The ex-Crew forward is not suffering from any injuries, but required some time to deal with other matters.
From the unsigned-but-still-in-the-mix trailist front, Matt Luzunaris is not expected to be in training camp for the remainder of the week, but the team is still considering signing the young forward. After a successful two weeks with the Quakes, Luzunaris remains in the team’s plans, but he had a prior engagement to attend to this week. 23-year old midfielder Simon Dawkins, who trained extensively with the Earthquakes during their week at Spurs Lodge in north London is still in England awaiting negotiations of a loan deal with Tottenham and MLS. Dawkins did enough to impress the Quakes coaching staff, and head coach Frank Yallop indicated they hope to have him with the team in time for the start of the 2011 regular season. Dawkins played significant minutes in the withdrawn forward role in the team’s 4-3-1-2 formation in friendly matches in England and proved to be near fully recovered from a series of injuries that have derailed his accent to the Spurs first team, the latest occurring in September 2010.
Looking to the perfectly manicured field of the NTF, the rest of the Quakes were busy playing in short sided games and passing drills. Defender Tim Ward sat out the heavy parts nursing a hamstring injury picked up in England, but Yallop indicated he would be back to full training within the week. A quartet of Quakes recovering from injury — Bobby Convey, Scott Sealy, Jason Hernandez, and Chris Leitch — participated in some simple passing and agility drills off to the side of the main practice as they attempt to get back to full health in time for the March 19th MLS regular season opener against Real Salt Lake. Sealy and Hernandez look the furthest away from making a full return to training, but both looked much better than two weeks ago.
Another player that still has a chance to be in the mix for a 2011 roster spot is 2011 MLS Supplemental Draft selection Victor Cortez from the University of San Francisco. The senior midfielder made a rare appearance at training on Tuesday and looked sharp in passing drills alongside Anthony Ampaipitakwong, Ellis McLoughlin, and Rafael Baca. Cortez is still spending time completing his coursework at USF, and general manager John Doyle has stated in the past that he is in no rush to sign him until he is ready to contribute fully to the team. His player rights remain with the team for two years after his drafting, so there is no rush to get him on the roster ahead of the season opener.
With drills and short-sided games over for the day, the healthy Quakes split up for a half field 9 v. 9 scrimmage. Ramiro Corrales was first to tally as he sent a low shot screaming past David Bingham in the opening seconds. McLoughlin nearly equalized minutes later when he rocketed a shot off the far post out of the reach of Jon Busch. Coming off a great camp in England, Chris Wondolowski found the back of the net with a low shot that deflected in off the post after eluding Busch’s acrobatic diving save attempt. The remainder of the scrimmage went well, with Anthony Ampaipitakwong settling in as a two-way midfielder for both squads — now 8 v. 8 — when Brad Ring picked up a small knock and went to the bench as a preventative measure. The newest Quakes signing, Ampai is clearly developing a familiarity and chemistry with the players around him as the preseason enters its sixth week. While still a ways off from challenging for a first team selection, Ampai looks to be cementing his role as a #10 for the reserve team.
Off the field, the buzz was all about the Demolition Ceremony of the FMC buildings next door to the NTF. Many of the players will partake in the festivities that are planned for Thursday at noon, in what capacity we’ll have to wait to find out. The event is open to Earthquakes season ticket holders, but you should plan on sending an RSVP to your fan relations representative. While the beautiful imagery of a classic wrecking ball will not be present to initiate the demolition -- truth be told, it would merely dent or bounce off the metal skinned building -- the large machinery in the photo above stands ready and willing to tear the first chunk of the building away. The total demolition and clean-up of the property is scheduled to take 12 weeks and cost nearly $2 million.
A quick bit of news, hidden in the weekly update press release from the Earthquakes (and now hidden at the bottom of this training report), is the announcement of a newly scheduled preseason match with the Portland Timbers on March 12th. In an effort to keep the grounds of Buck Shaw stadium pristine ahead of the regular season against Real Salt Lake the following weekend, the match will be held at the NTF and is closed to the public. The last chance to see the Quakes in the preseason will be this Friday at 7 p.m. against the Colorado Rapids on the campus of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Just a 3 hour drive south of San Jose, and smack-dab in the middle of the fine Central Coast wine region, SLO makes for a great weekend getaway location. Throw in a Quakes game to kick things off and the trip is that much more worth it.
Meanwhile, back in San Jose, the Earthquakes invited team supporters groups to decorate the FMC buildings ahead of Thursday's ceremony. The 1906 Ultras were particularly active in this endeavor, and a selection of their artwork can be seen in the following photos.