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San Jose Earthquakes training report for Friday, July 29: central defender crisis dominates DC United preparations

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While the injury and suspension problems that have plagued the San Jose Earthquakes as the month of July comes to a close are well documented, the team still boasted a nearly full house for their last training session ahead of the visit of DC United to Buck Shaw Stadium this Saturday evening. Sure, the benches on the opposite side of the Nutrilite Training Facility field were well occupied by those in blue-and-black, more than enough able bodies filled out the squads in an 11 v. 11 intrateam scrimmage.

Matters were helped by the return of both Justin Morrow and Matt Luzunaris from their loan assignments in Florida. The duo looked sharp for the second team, especially Luzunaris, whose short stint with Orlando City SC has included two goals scored and a visible boost to his confidence. Still not a first choice option for head coach Frank Yallop, the 23-year old flashed enough of his attacking ability to be considered for the match day 18.

Notable on Friday was the inclusion of all three players acquired from Toronto FC in the trade for Ryan Johnson in the full training session. Jacob Peterson has quickly established himself as the preferred right midfielder, and Nana Attokora made his Earthquakes debut in last weekend’s match at Real Salt Lake. The third member of the trio, forward Alan Gordon, was active with the first team for the second straight day of training, and according to coach Yallop he is in line to start against DC United if he passes a match-day fitness test.

“I might play Alan (Gordon) with Scott (Sealy) in this one,” said Yallop following Friday’s training session. “With Wondo back, we’ll plug him in as well, and whether he or Alan pairs up top with Scott we’ll decide for sure tomorrow. Gordo is still a little bit sore after training yesterday and today, so you have to wait for the morning to really assess if he’ll be ready to go.”

The fact that Attakora was a full participant in the team scrimmage was especially encouraging for the young defender. With the Earthquakes regular starting duo of Jason Hernandez and Bobby Burling both unavailable for the weekend, and second year man Ike Opara possibly months away from returning to action, the choices for center back are very thin. As such, Attakora will again be forced to gain match fitness through actual playing time instead of on the training field.

“He is going to play, we need him out there,” revealed Yallop. “I’m not sure many players can come right in and look good for 90 minutes, but he should be ready for Saturday. He hasn’t played for eight weeks, so to do what he did against Real Salt Lake was impressive. He’s been training with us a few more days and looks a lot better.”

The bigger question becomes who Yallop will pair with Attakora in the center of defense. Given that Brad Ring is also ruled out of Saturday’s match due to a one-game suspension stemming from caution accumulation, Yallop is left with Chris Leitch or even Ramiro Corrales as a spot starter against DC United. Either choice still leaves the defensive line with a makeshift line-up that will need to gel together quickly against a potent DC United attacking four.

“For us, it’s making sure we play well as a unit. We’ll have to figure out quickly what they are doing offensively so that we can protect our back four. Whether it is Ramiro (Corrales) in the middle, which it looks like it will be, we hope he can partner well with Nana (Attakora) and they will do fine. We don’t have a lot of choices back there.”

Attakora looked gassed in the match at Real Salt Lake, but his strong effort helped the Quakes persevere a scoreless game up until his early second half substitution. Partnering with Corrales will pose another unfamiliar defensive partner for the Canadian international, but if he can replicate his effort last weekend with a slight improvement in his stamina, the Earthquakes may yet survive this week’s defensive crisis.

“All the things we tried to do against Real Salt Lake I thought we did well for the first 60 minutes. Jon (Busch) made a couple saves to keep the game scoreless, and we were doing well defensively. They are a difficult opponent for any team, especially at that stadium.”

Elsewhere at practice, the Earthquakes were pleased to see defender Steven Beitashour back on the training field, as he looked very close to being back to full fitness. Jogging around the facility at the tail end of the training day, he was all smiles when asked about his progress.

Another positive sign for the Quakes was the presence of Andre Luiz at training in his full workout gear. He did some light physical drills followed up by some short passing drills with Rafael Baca off to the side of the scrimmage. Andre Luiz avoided too much side-to-side motion during his hour on the field, and indicated after practice that he was two more weeks away from really testing out his surgically repaired knee. While it is still too early to talk about how close he can return to the form that saw him orchestrate the Quakes midfield at the beginning of the 2010 season, just seeing him train again was very encouraging.

As mentioned above, Chris Wondolowski was back from New York and looked to be in the swing of things from the opening minutes of the training session. Both he and Bobby Convey traveled back to San Jose on Thursday and are expected in Yallop’s starting XI against DC United despite having only one day of training since their return. One player that will not be ready to play on Saturday was Simon Dawkins, who sat out the scrimmage and is still recovering from a tight hamstring.

The bigger news in the American soccer world Friday morning was the news of Jurgen Klinsmann being appointed the new coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team. For coach Yallop, a veteran of the international coaching scene from his time in charge of Team Canada, the decision by U.S. Soccer to relieve Bob Bradley of his coaching duties came as somewhat of a surprise.

“I thought Bob (Bradley) did a terrific job, and I felt for him,” said Yallop. “I know how difficult it can be, and you will lose some games. It can be a bit of luck here and there, but the result against Mexico is not what they wanted.”

For Wondolowski, who was part of the Gold Cup squad that fell to Mexico 4-2 in the final, the relationship he built up with Bradley in the last six months must now be started anew with the new coaching staff.

“I hope that I can stay on the radar. I’ll always be grateful and appreciative of Bob (Bradley) for bringing me in the opportunity to earn my first cap. If I continue to play well, I hope I will get another opportunity.”

While some Earthquakes players like Convey, Hernandez, and Sam Cronin — all recipients of call-ups to the national team in the years past — might welcome a change at the helm as a boost to the chances they’ll be invited to future USMNT training camps, Wondo looked at the appointment of Klinsmann as a great opportunity. After all, the former Germany striker was a legend for club and country during a lengthy professional career, and he has continually stated his preference for coaching an attacking style of soccer.

“That is something I am hoping for,” shared Wondolowski. “Obviously he was a great striker and someone who I grew up idolizing. It would be great to play for him.”

Wondo, along with the other call-up hopefuls from the Earthquakes, will learn their fate soon enough, as Klinsmann and the USMNT are scheduled to face Mexico in an exhibition friendly August 10 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA.