With weather more reminiscent of a February preseason training session, the San Jose Earthquakes returned to the Nutrilite Training Facility for their first full practice since drawing 2-2 with the Chicago Fire over the weekend. Head coach Frank Yallop spent most of the session monitoring an abbreviated field scrimmage that was most noticeable for what was lacking — star striker Chris Wondolowski, who is know with Team USA in North Carolina preparing for an international friendly with Spain and the CONCACAF Gold Cup during the month of June.
With Ryan Johnson also absent from the Quakes while with the Jamaican national team, coach Yallop will need to make at least one more change to his starting XI for the upcoming match with the Houston Dynamo. Having conceded four goals to the Chicago Fire in two matches last week, some changes to the defensive alignment are also probable.
“Houston is a tough team to play against, and they are dangerous on set pieces,” said Yallop after training, “so we’ll see how guys do this week in training and decide who will start on Saturday. The strength of the team we have is we can make changes to the line-up without weakening us at all.”
While a bit noncommittal in his comments, the line-ups for Tuesday’s intra-squad scrimmage suggested that Yallop has not made up his mind for the weekend. Typically those decisions are not made until later in the week, but are often predictable when the team is getting results. However, coming off two successive draws, the likelihood of changes is higher, and the scrimmage line-ups may provide some clues.
Lining up for the blue team was Beitashour, Burling, McDonald, Convey, Ampaipitakwong, Ring, Dawkins, Ward, Sealy, and McLoughlin. Facing them was the yellow team of Leitch, Opara, Hernandez, Morrow, Cortez, Stephenson, Cronin, Corrales, Luzunaris, and trailist Sercan Güvenışık. The goalkeepers rotated between the two sides throughout the scrimmage.
Notably absent from Tuesday’s training session were Steven Lenhart and Joey Gjertsen. Coach Yallop revealed after the session that Lenhart was given a couple days off to deal with family issues related to his father’s death while Gjersten was held out because he was suffering from illness. Both starters against the Fire last Saturday, the two are expected back with the team later in the week and will be considered for the match against Houston. While Gjertsen’s place in the starting XI seems tenuous, Lenhart is certain to start against the Dynamo.
The big question for Yallop is who partners with Lenhart on Saturday? Will it be 20-year old Ellis McLoughlin, coming off a good couple weeks of games and practices, or will it be veteran Scott Sealy, playing through injury and probably limited in what he can bring to the team. Odds are that the Quakes rookie will get the call, but he is also dealing with a nagging groin injury that leaves him at less than full match fitness. Matt Luzunaris looked strong in the scrimmage today, but is likely number three on the depth chart behind McLoughlin and Sealy.
One player that played in the scrimmage but won’t be starting on Saturday is trailist Sercan Güvenışık. The German-born Turkish striker will train with the Earthquakes at least through the end of this week, and started off the week making a positive impression with the coaching staff. Güvenışık, through his agent, arranged the trip to the United States at his own cost in order to gauge the interest in his services by MLS. The 31-year old striker scored the only goal of the second half of the scrimmage after edging Burling on an offside trap and outracing the defender toward a 1 v. 1 with the goalkeeper. Coach Yallop was pleased to have Güvenışık in for a trail, as he was impressed by the video he has seen of his play in Germany and Turkey.
“He wanted to come in for a look, and it was no cost to us to have him in, so we agreed,” said Yallop. “He looked good today and we’ll see how he does the rest of the week. We are always looking and trying to improve the team. So any chance you get to look at a guy like Sercan (Güvenışık) you have to.”
Lastly, the most significant site of the day had to be watching Simon Dawkins participate in the scrimmage with no apparent lack of agility or speed as a result of his recent surgical procedures on both calves. Dawkins looked spry as a central midfielder paired with Brad Ring, though he did not attempt any dazzling dribbling moves reminiscent of earlier this season. When asked after training whether he was ready to go, coach Yallop indicated that he was unlikely to start on Saturday, but could not rule out his availability for the match day roster of 18 players. Dawkins confirmed as much and went on to say that a 15 minute stint against the Dynamo was a more realistic a goal for this week.
“With Wondolowski gone that is obviously a motivation for me to return,” said Dawkins after training, “but I am already motivated to play anyway. It is up to the physios to let me know if I am ready.”