Thursday’s San Jose Earthquakes training session was a chance to scrimmage the likely starting XI that will face the Houston Dynamo this weekend against the rest of the hopefuls to make the 18 player match day roster. It was also a chance for head coach Frank Yallop’s first choice to replace Chris Wondolowski as striker to gain more training minutes in that capacity. With Steven Lenhart ensconced in the line-up, the question was who would be his partner and in what formation would they be positioned.
Unfortunately, the session at Buck Shaw Stadium was one of nervousness as defender Ike Opara left the field with a nasty looking left foot injury — the same foot in which he broke a bone last summer and missed the bulk of the second half of the season. Opara limped to the locker room following the incident and was scheduled for further evaluation. The first-team scrimmage XI included Opara before his injury, and Bobby Burling stepped into his spot as training continued.
Update: As reported by MLSsoccer.com, x-rays on Opara’s left foot came back negative. However, he looks unlikely to play this weekend against Houston.
Two players that coach Yallop confirmed would see the field on Saturday are Khari Stephenson and Anthony Ampaipitakwong. The tall Jamaican appears to have on the battle to be the second striker for the Earthquakes, playing more as a withdrawn forward behind Lenhart. Ellis McLoughlin was in the mix, but Yallop apparently wants to go with experience over youth. McLoughlin looks very likely to make the bench instead. Meanwhile rookie midfielder Ampaipitakwong has earned the start on the right wing against Houston in place of the sickness-slowed Joey Gjertsen. Coach Yallop praised the Akron playmaker for his adaptability to play on the flank and pointed to his second half performance against the Fire last weekend as reasons to include him in the starting XI.
With Stephenson moving forward in the Earthquakes formation, the center of midfield opens up for the return of Sam Cronin to the starting line-up. Brought in as a late substitute against the Fire, Cronin paired up well with Brad Ring in a way that Stephenson did not. Pushing the more offensively minded Jamaican forward alleviates the disconnect he showed in the first half against the Fire in partnership with Ring. And with two goals already this season, he provides a proven goal scorer in replacement of Wondolowski.
Simon Dawkins continued his remarkable return to form on Thursday, as the Tottenham loanee continued to make strides toward regaining his spot in the starting XI. Coach Yallop confirmed that Dawkins would be in the 18 man game day roster, and suggested that he could give him 30 minutes as a substitute in the midfield or as another forward. Given Yallop’s history of not delaying the return of his better players to the pitch following injuries, expect an appearance from Dawkins against the Dynamo on Saturday.