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San Jose Earthquakes training report: heading north of the border to face Toronto FC

Some quick notes from the week’s training, as the San Jose Earthquakes regrouped after the 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy and prepared to travel north of the border to face Toronto FC.

New Earthquakes forward Edmundo Zura made a 20 minute cameo against the Galaxy but had little effect on the game. Head coach Frank Yallop revealed at training on Tuesday that the Ecuadoran striker was not at the level of fitness necessary to make an immediate impact.

“I think he needs to get into condition,” said Yallop. “We thought he would be a lot closer to being match-fit, but he’s not. He really needs to get working and get fit, and then we can really assess him for sure.”

With Zura’s parent club in Ecuador, El Nacional, in the middle of their season, the Earthquakes hoped that evaluating the forward could commence upon his arrival and integrating him into the team would be quick. Unfortunately, both assumptions have proved incorrect, and Yallop has been forced to wait for the summer transfer deadline signing to bring up his fitness to MLS levels.

“He said he’s trained everyday, but our league is a totally different league,” said Yallop. “It’s really athletic, fast, and a combative league. There is a lot of running, and maybe when you have not been training at your fullest because they are trying to loan you out, maybe you don’t put in everything you have. I just have to make sure we get him in good condition and see from there.”

Yallop wasn’t convinced earlier in the week that Zura would be ready and able to travel with the team to Toronto, though issues securing a visa to enter Canada might also thwart the traveling efforts of the Ecuadoran. By the time the Earthquakes left for Toronto, the decision for Zura to remain in San Jose had been made. Yallop hoped that the forward could be up to match fitness by the following weekend against the Chicago Fire.

Against the Galaxy, the Earthquakes featured an unusual central midfielder pairing — 16-year veteran Ramiro Corrales and mid-season rookie Rafael Baca — that featured the largest gap in professional soccer experience possible on the Quakes roster. And even though the duo were overrun in the first 30 minutes of the match, they eventually asserted themselves as a productive pair and looked solid over the remaining hour of the match. The improvement in play from Corrales and Baca was not lost on coach Yallop.

“I liked it,” said Yallop. “I thought they possessed the ball well. Our ball movement in the middle was great, and they brought the wings into the game. Los Angeles is not set-up very defensively in the middle, so they had some fun out there.”

Baca, who in his previous start for the Earthquakes looked well out of his league against Real Salt Lake, seized the opportunity to get another start and played with the energy he showed earlier in the season during Reserve League contests.

“I think my performance was a good one and I felt fine on the pitch,” said Baca. “Even though I had a good game, it’s not good enough if we don’t get the win. If we can keep being patient, things will come out our way.”

His performance against the Galaxy will give coach Yallop reason to start the rookie for the second straight week when the team face Toronto FC.

While midfielder Sam Cronin returned to action this week and will be available on the weekend following a one game suspension for receiving a red card against the Colorado Rapids, his often partner in the midfield Brad Ring will not. Still nursing an injured shoulder suffered in the Rapids match, Ring did not train with the team earlier in the week. Coach Yallop indicated that the second year player would continue rehabilitation on his shoulder and would be further evaluated later in the week. Ring was not expected to travel with the team to Toronto.

In the mix to make the match-day 18 against TFC are two former players that were recently acquired from Toronto in exchange for forward Ryan Johnson. Nana Attakora and Jacob Peterson both participated in full training this week, and could feature on the bench at BMO Field this Saturday. While Attakora is unlikely to play — the starting XI spot vacated by Steven Beitashour as he serves a one game suspension is likely to be filled by veteran Chris Leitch — Peterson is a good choice to spell either Joey Gjertsen or Bobby Convey as an outside midfielder. For Peterson, the chance to face the team that gave up on him just a month earlier would be special, and he hopes he can have an effect on the game in favor of the Earthquakes.

“Of course,” said Peterson candidly. “I don’t think that any player playing their former team, and maybe they will be politically correct and say there’s not, but there always is. Especially with it being so fresh there is more at stake individually, but more importantly as a team it is a huge opportunity to get three points and try to right this ship.”

Peterson was thrust into duty immediately upon his arrival to San Jose, despite having not recovered fully from a nagging hamstring injury. The midfielder reported on Tuesday that he was finally feeling fully healthy going into the week’s training.

“Yeah, it’s feeling good,” revealed Peterson. “I still don’t have that sharpness that I maybe had before the injury, my passes aren’t as crisp, and my movement maybe isn’t what I was before. It’s a battle, but it’s feeling good these days and I’d say I’m at 100%. If the time comes where I can add a little bit, I’m ready to do that.”

Mixed in with the senior team during intrasquad scrimmages on Tuesday were a pair of freshly signed Academy players, and carefully watching their performances was new Earthquakes Academy assistant coach Stephen Wondolowski. He explained that the youth program is continuing to bolster their ranks with players from all backgrounds, and that the two youngsters sharing the field with among others his older brother Chris were good examples of players that fell outside the normal purview of Bay Area club soccer.

Identified at a local tournament featuring primarily Latino players of all backgrounds, the pair of under-18’s had gone unnoticed by the top youth clubs in the area. Wondolowski and Academy head coach Marquis White recognized the pair were extremely talented, and were impressed to learn they had played with kids and adults higher in age for many years. The two newest Academy signings will get their first action with the youth teams when their season begins early next year. In the meantime, Wondolowski was happy to give them the opportunity to train with the senior team, a perhaps whet their appetite to make joining that squad a goal for their professional soccer future.