Tuesday training sessions can often be a casual affair as the coaching staff begins the process of separating the expected starting XI for the upcoming weekend from the bench players and reserves. Add in that this week the Earthquakes hosted an MLS Reserve League game against the Los Angeles Galaxy Monday morning/afternoon, and it was not surprising to see some players get a respite from participating in full training exercises.
Following the requisite warm-up routines, the squad split up into two teams for a series of 9 v. 9 short field scrimmages. For Team Blue, Jon Busch captained the net while Convey, Hernandez, Beitashour, McLoughlin, Cronin, Stephenson, Álvarez (No, not Arturo —more on that below), and Luzunaris manned the outfield. As the opposition, wearing bright orange pennies, Weber, Leitch Burling, Corrales, Gjertsen, Ring, Ampaipitakwong, Dawkins, and Lenhart defended from the In-n-Out End of the Nutrilite Training Facility.
All eleven starters from the 2-0 win over Houston were in the mix during the scrimmages, though broken up over the two teams. No changes are expected in the starting XI that will face DC United on Saturday, with the seven bench players also likely to remain the same. Facing off against one another in Tuesday’s scrimmage also highlighted some of the player groupings that are starting to take hold. Cronin and Stephenson as a midfield duo worked well in quick possession passing, while Lenhart saw some nice service from Ampai and Ring. With the short-field conditions limiting open space in which to work, quick passing and timely runs were the recipe for success. Dawkins looked especially comfortable in this arrangement as he quickly works himself into match fitness. Talking after practice he disclosed that he was feeling no ill effects from his appearance on Saturday against the Dynamo, and felt he would be good for 45-60 minutes against DC United.
Bobby Convey was especially active on the day, with some intensity during the scrimmage that is not his signature level of involvement. Playing primarily out of the back, Convey demanded a great deal from his teammates when it came to getting open and playing quick give-and-goes. The veteran was especially encouraging to rookie strikers Luzunaris and McLoughlin, who received their fair share of critical evaluation throughout the scrimmage.
Looking sharp for Team Orange was outside midfielder Joey Gjertsen. While his performances on past weekends have not been stellar, Gjertsen has shaken off the flu that hampered his progress back to full fitness following an early season injury and showed off more of his skills and elusiveness in the scrimmage. The preferred choice for coach Yallop at right midfielder when healthy, Gjertsen will need to continue his recovery before he can expect to dislodge Ampai from the starting line-up.
Steven Lenhart had a nice run-out, but did seem to be holding back slightly. Given the physical abuse he both dishes out and receives on a regular basis in MLS play, taking it a bit easy in training is understandable. Knowing that he tends to dial up his play as the week progresses, Lenhart should be hitting his stride just in time to face a DC United side that features two rookie center backs. It is not inconceivable to imagine the Quakes striker is looking forward to the opportunity to dish it out to the MLS newcomers this weekend.
With the scrimmages done, the players moved on to practice free kicks and general shooting drills. While the goalkeepers rotated in, the players took turns hitting the ball over a wall of dummies (no, the Galaxy were not still in town — these were of the plastic variety) to simulate various set piece opportunities. Tim Ward had a pair of strikes that made it past the ‘keeper corp, while Convey showed a good curving effort that narrowly missed going upper 90. Assistant coach Ian Russell had one of the best kicks of the day — combining precision and power, he curled a ball up and over the wall and into the inside netting. In the end-of-training shoot around, the undisputed “hardest shot on the Quakes” titleholder Ellis McLoughlin continued his assault on the Jabulani with a dazzling set of left-footed blasts. The goalkeepers must want to encourage the 20-year old to give it try with the right foot now and again, but when he obliges the shots come nearly as hard.
Ike Opara was not at training Tuesday, as he continues to be evaluated for the left-foot injury he sustained last Thursday in training. X-rays and an MRI ruled out any broken bones or stress fractures, but the second year defender is still reporting significant pain and still requires the use of crutches to get around. Opara did come out to watch the Reserve League game on Monday, but he did not comment on his status.
On the trialist front, Sercan Güvenışık has completed his stay in San Jose, and has left to join up with his girlfriend in Florida. With only a week to go before he is to report with his German club team Preußen Münster, Güvenışık’s fate with the Earthquakes is now in the hands of the coaching staff and general manager John Doyle. Making it clear that the Turkish striker was of interest, the team has official filed a Discovery Claim with MLS and now enters a period of negotiation with the player’s agent. With Güvenışık not eligible to be added to the roster until the start of the MLS summer transfer window on July 15th, an agreement to sign the 31-year old may be some time away.
Starting a two week trial with the Earthquakes on Monday was Guillermo Álvarez Enríquez of Mexico. The right outside midfielder made a late appearance in the Earthquakes 3-0 Reserve League win over the Galaxy, but made little impact. Known simply as Guillermo Álvarez, the 23-year old from Michoacan spent time with the Morelia youth team before signing earlier this year with Atlético Huila in the Colombian First Division. He made six substitute appearances for Huila in four months with the team and did not register any goals or assists. Álvarez is slight of frame, but has some speed and a good right-footed shot. Given the Earthquakes difficulties in nailing down the right midfielder position, Álvarez will certainly get a thorough look during his time in San Jose.