In the team’s first full week of training following a disappointing three-match home stand where they earned just a single point, the San Jose Earthquakes prepared in earnest for their away visit to the Home Depot Center to face the Los Angeles Galaxy. Sitting atop the Western Conference standings and in poll position to win the MLS Supporters Shield, the Galaxy will feature their full complement of Designated Players this Saturday evening, a change from the less glamorous line-up they started on their visit to Buck Shaw Stadium last June. The Earthquakes counter with MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski and potentially recent signing Edmundo Zura of Ecuador.
Head coach Frank Yallop had his charges playing a number of short field scrimmages this week as he worked out different combination players ahead of forming his starting line-up for Saturday. With central midfielder Sam Cronin on a one match suspension for receiving a red card against the Colorado Rapids last weekend, Yallop has at least one hole to plug in the midfield. Complicating matters will be whether Brad Ring is ready to go against the Galaxy.
“He’s fifty/fifty I think,” assessed Yallop of Ring’s chances of playing this weekend. “He’s still pretty sore. He won’t train until Friday, so we’ll see. We wouldn’t want to risk him. He has a little bit of a tear in the ligaments. What we don’t want is for him to fall over and be out six to eight weeks.”
If Ring is ruled out for Saturday, Yallop is left to plug two holes in the center of midfield. His choices seem limited, given the spate of injuries that have afflicted the team at this point in the season.
“Ramiro (Corrales) can go in the middle,” offered Yallop. “Ampai has a bit of a groin injury right now, but Khari (Stephenson) can obviously play central midfielder. We just have to figure out who is healthy. We are kind of beat up a little bit. I’ll figure it out Friday and pick the team and go with it.”
Dropping Stephenson back into the midfield would open up a spot at forward along side Chris Wondolowski, but the Earthquakes hope to have Zura available for the weekend, even if it will be as a substitute.
“I think he’ll be in for the game,” shared Yallop, “whether it is Friday before training or he just goes straight to LA either Friday night or Saturday morning. He should be available. If we need a goal we may as well see what he is all about.”
The Ecuadoran striker was scheduled to receive his P-1 visa at the American consulate in Quito Wednesday afternoon before embarking for the United States. As of Thursday afternoon, the Earthquakes would not confirm whether the visa issuance had proceeded as planned. If Zura does arrive in Los Angeles in time for the match against the Galaxy, he won’t have a lot of time to assimilate with the team, but Yallop suggested that he won’t hesitate to use the striker if the need arises.
“I need to look and see how he feels,” said Yallop. “It’s difficult for anybody to just come in, not only into a new team but also a new country, and step right onto the field. I expect him to be fully available for the weekend.”
Midfielder/forward Simon Dawkins, who will also be available against the Galaxy, was similarly thrust right into the fray upon his arrival in San Jose just hours ahead of the team’s MLS season opener against Real Salt Lake. Dawkins had the benefit of training with the Earthquakes for a spell during the team’s preseason trip to Spurs Lodge in England, but he was still working on reaching full match fitness. Zura will join the Earthquakes on loan directly from Club Deportiva El Nacional, which is currently in the midst of their regular season in Ecuador.
“He’s in season,” explained Yallop, “and he’s played for Ecuador a number of times. While he’s not playing regularly for his team at the moment, which is a reason we could get him on loan, he’s been coming off the bench and playing significant minutes. He’s training every day and he’s playing so that’s good.”
While Zura is highly unlikely to start against the Galaxy alongside fellow forward Chris Wondolowski — more on that later — he does provide that complement to the Quakes leading scorer that he has missed over the past couple weeks.
“He’s kind of what Lenhart and Gordon were,” expected Yallop. “A little bit of a target, and he’s got some goals in him. He’s got nimble feet. When you are looking at players from afar, you don’t know what they are capable of until you are working with them. He’s shown he has some pace and is good in the air from what we’ve seen and he can finish.”
Whether Zura sees significant playing time on Saturday or not, the Ecuadoran striker will be needed for the stretch run, as the Earthquakes will need a flurry of good results and some breaks from the teams around them in the standings to return to the MLS Cup playoffs for the second straight season. Turning losses into draws and draws into victories will be paramount over the next 10 games, but improving upon the team’s woeful scoring average will be required.
“Let’s hope he settles in quick, because we need some help obviously,” said Yallop. “We need to break our run of not winning, and we have to score goals to do that.”
Looking at the rest of the potential line-up for Saturday, the possibilities are limited given player availability and coach Yallop’s preferred first teamers. On the outside midfielder positions, the status quo looks to be the order of the week, as Joey Gjertsen and Bobby Convey have combined to bring energy and pace to the wings. Yallop likes what he has seen out of both players, and indicated that their places in the starting XI were secure. For Gjertsen, after some early season struggles, coach Yallop was pleased to see him raise his game over the past couple matches.
“Sometimes players lose confidence, I think that is what happened to Joey,” shared Yallop. “He’s been great, he’s been absolutely superb. He’s been dangerous, he shown good technique, he’s crossed some good dangerous balls, he’s had a few chances, and he’s made some good runs behind defenses. Joey’s back to where we know he can play.”
Going further with what might be responsible for Gjertsen’s resurgence as of late, coach Yallop pondered the question before referring to the mid-July trade that sent Ryan Johnson to Toronto FC in exchange for among others, midfielder Jacob Peterson. Peterson immediately played for the Earthquakes in the next three games following the trade, but had to drop to the bench due to a leg injury.
“Maybe Jacob coming in made him think he had to pick his game up,” suggested Yallop. “Jacob is fine now, his hamstring is strong and I expect him to be in the mix.”
Along the back line, the big question mark comes with the fitness of Bobby Burling. He has not been participating in the full training sessions, but has been working out on the side. When asked how he felt, Burling responded that he felt ready to go against the Galaxy, but fell short of revealing whether he expected to start. Coach Yallop did little to clear up the situation, but did say that he felt Burling and Jason Hernandez gave his team the best chance defensively against the Galaxy attack.
“He should be okay for the game,” said Yallop. “He did some light training for the day, and will be evaluated again on Friday.”
Already hinting that Ramiro Corrales might be moved to defensive midfield to cover for the suspended Sam Cronin and injured Brad Ring, Yallop made extensive use of Justin Morrow at the left back position during the week’s training sessions. The second-year player has seen limited minutes for the Earthquakes this season, but he did recently complete a short loan spell at FC Tampa Bay. Morrow looked lively during intra-squad scrimmages and flashed his speed up the left wing in joining the attack on many occasions. Pairing with another speedy left side player in Bobby Convey, the Earthquakes may look to use that combination to cover the vast amounts of space along the touchlines that are a feature of the playing field at the Home Depot Center.
Lastly, while Zura may be available to play against the Galaxy this Saturday, he is unlikely to start. As to Wondolowski’s partner at forward, a couple names came up in conversation with coach Yallop. First off was Scott Sealy, who has recovered from a leg injury suffered two weeks ago and was heavily involved in training this week. The other is Ellis McLoughlin, who Yallop repeatedly commended for his solid play of late. The Earthquakes rookie is more likely to be dispatched as a midfielder substitution against the Galaxy, in much the same way he came off the bench against the Rapids last Saturday, but he remains in the mix to play forward.
“Ellis has looked particularly sharp,” said Yallop, “so we’ll see.”