While it might have made sense for the San Jose Earthquakes to continue on directly to Denver following their Wednesday night match in Portland, head coach Frank Yallop was keen to get his team back home for a quick training session at their home training facility. Firmly a believer that the best way to prepare for playing at altitude is to arrive at higher elevation as close to kick-off as possible, Yallop elected to fly back to San Jose Thursday morning and get in a couple days of home treatment. The team arrived in Denver early last evening, approximately 24 hours before their game with the Colorado Rapids was scheduled to begin.
The Earthquakes will be without Jason Hernandez and Bobby Convey for the third straight games, as both are still not sufficiently recovered from injury. Hernandez said after Friday’s practice that he expects to be back in full training on Monday, while Convey was already working on the side of the pitch with the Quakes trainers in anticipation of returning next week as well. San Jose will also be missing Sam Cronin for the match against the Rapids, as the midfielder earned an automatic one-match suspension for caution accumulation after receiving a yellow card in the match against the Timbers.
Possibilities to fill in for Cronin at center midfielder include Rafael Baca, who started against the Timbers on the right wing; Brad Ring, who is available following his recovery from a shoulder injury; and Khari Stephenson, who could drop back to the midfield from the forward position. If Baca moves back to the center to partner with Ramiro Corrales, Joey Gjertsen is available to resume his starting role on the right wing. Traveling with the team to Colorado were forwards Scott Sealy, Matt Luzunaris, and Maxwell Griffin — all possibilities to spell Khari Stephenson if he does not start at forward. The rest of the Quakes starters from Wednesday were pronounced fit for Saturday’s match in Colorado, but coach Yallop did not rule out making other changes as he saw necessary.
On the injury front, Ike Opara continued to participate in light training drills and fitness exercises as he comes back from a left foot injury. Forward Alan Gordon was also back in San Jose this week, as he recovers from abdominal surgery performed last month. Both players may be available before the season ends according the coach Yallop, but neither will be rushed into action at the risk of causing another injury. Both are more likely to continue a slow build up to full speed training with an eye toward the 2012 preseason to get them fully integrated with the team.
The Earthquakes enter the match against Colorado with the slimmest of chances to make the postseason — they likely need to win all five of their remaining games just to make it interesting — but the guys haven’t given up on this season yet. Especially the younger players, who are taking the opportunity to play as a chance to stake their claim for more playing time in the coming season. If and when the Earthquakes are eliminated from the playoff chase, more of the young players will get their chance, but not all at once, as coach Yallop stressed that he wants to keep mixing up his line up with veterans and youngsters so that the game is closer to a real first-team experience.
Frank Yallop addresses the media following Friday's training session: Yallop at September 23, 2011 training.