By virtue of MLS rescheduling the Earthquakes regular season match with New England that was originally to be played on Wednesday to a free weekend in October, the team was able to return to the routine of a five-day training week in preparation for facing the Portland Timbers on Saturday. In fact, over the next seven weeks, the Quakes will only play on the weekends, giving them a chance to recover from a grueling July that saw them in action often twice a week. Defender Jason Hernandez, who picked up a troublesome calf injury from all the activity is pleased that the month of August will give him and his teammates a chance to heal.
“We’ve tried the best with the bodies we had to do our best,” explained Hernandez after training on Thursday. “Having a more conventional schedule, and having more rest between matches, we can leave it all out on the field and have enough time to recover, where in the month of July we did not have that luxury. Hopefully we can start by winning these games at home over the next couple of weeks.”
Hernandez returns to the starting line-up after sitting out the match against DC United after failing a match-day fitness test. While he admitted his leg is not feeling 100%, he recognizes that the team needs his leadership on the defensive back line. His coach Frank Yallop also is pleased to get Hernandez back in the staring line-up, along with some of the other regulars that missed the match last weekend.
“Three quality players for us that are nicely rested too,” was the description Yallop gave for Hernandez, Bobby Burling, and Steven Beitashour on the eve of the Portland match. “The stability of the two guys that have played a lot of minutes together, they are comfortable together and playing well. I feel Bobby and Jason are having really good seasons. Steven Beitashour is having a good season for a young player. We are happy to have them back.”
Hernandez could not agree more with his coach.
“A lot can be said for team chemistry and defending as a unit. Having three familiar faces on the back line is going to make a difference. Hopefully we can pick up where we left off and grind out some results.”
With Burling and Hernandez back in the starting XI, emergency central defender starter Ramiro Corrales is slated to move back to his more comfortable left back position. Where does that leave Bobby Convey?
“Ramiro is going to play left back, and I’ll play Bobby wide left for this weekend,” revelead Yallop, in essence flip-flopping the two left sided players back to where they started at the beginning of the season.
The move to bring Convey forward is designed to help bolster an attacking crew that is missing the services of Steven Lenhart and Simon Dawkins. The two forwards have contributed a combined 9 goals to the Earthquakes season total of 24 — a total of 38% — and have helped relieve the pressure put on Wondolowski to be the only offensive target. In fact, Lenhart was proving to be a significant handful for opposing defenders, which allowed Wondo to find more space in the penalty area. Since Lenhart left the team on an indefinite leave of absence, the offense has struggled mightily, an observation not lost on Hernandez.
“When Lenhart was here he gave everything he had for us,” said Hernandez. “He was a major reason why we had six or seven games where we were unbeaten. Obviously not having him hurts, but we’re a strong and resilient club and we are going to get on with it and do the best with what we have here.”
The other missing piece of the puzzle is Dawkins, who for the third straight week did not participate in full training with the team as he rehabilitates a troublesome hamstring injury. With a history of injury problems, this might have been expected this season for the young English striker. Still, the hope is that he can come back soon and spark the team again, like he did on his debut in the season opener against Real Salt Lake. For some on the squad the reintroduction of Dawkins will nearly be the equivalent of bringing in a big summer signing.
“I think Simon is our boost like that,” said an expectant Hernandez when he was reminded about the arrival of Brazilian playmaker Geovanni last season. “Unfortunately Simon is working back from injury right now, but when I look at our team during the run we made last year all the way to the Conference Final, I think Simon and Geovanni are very similar. They both drop in from the forward line to the midfield to get on the ball, they are really technical and find passes and hold the ball well and attack. I think he is that player for us, and if we can get him healthy and get that similar mentality and shape we had last year, we can have some success and hopefully all those pieces will fall into place in the next week or so.”
Wondolowski concurred with Hernandez that Dawkins was a special player.
“Simon is a great player and when he is not on the field you miss him. He adds a lot and is a spark plug in there.”
A timetable for the return of Dawkins has not been released, but if his training form is an indication, it looks like another couple of weeks will be necessary to get him back to full health.
Earlier in the week it was reported that forward Matt Luzunaris had been sent back to Orlando City SC on loan. However, the rookie striker was absent from the team for personal reasons. He revealed on Twitter that some issues have come up with his family, but no other explanation was given. After making a substitution appearance against DC United last weekend, it remains to be seen whether Luzunaris will be included in the match-day 18 against the Timbers.
Another player that is likely to step out of the starting line-up this weekend is midfielder Jacob Peterson. Acquired in the trade of Ryan Johnson to Toronto FC, the Indiana University product will be rested against Portland according to coach Yallop. He did say the midfielder was in line to be on the substitutes’ bench, but felt it was time to give him a break after playing so many minutes since his arrival in San Jose in the middle of July. The other two players from the TFC trade, Nana Attakora and Alan Gordon, who started against DC United, will also be excluded from the starting XI against the Timbers.