The first week of preseason camp is in the books for the San Jose Earthquakes and the team is wasting no time getting up to speed. Coming off the shortest offseason to date since the organization returned to MLS in 2008, coaches and players could understandably be expected to take it easy at the beginning of training camp. Instead, with two-a-days scheduled since Monday’s first session at the Nutrilite Training Facility, fitness building drills and on-the-ball activities are already the norm.
Among the familiar faces from last season that are with the team, Steven Lenhart was back in training for the first time since leaving the team last summer for an extended personal leave of absence. Looking fresh and fit, and perhaps buoyed with the knowledge that he is back under contract with MLS, the affable forward seemed to be comfortable alongside his teammates running the practice field sidelines and participating a various fitness drills.
Lenhart made headlines at Monday’s training session by winning the first “beep test” of the preseason. A shuttle-run drill that’s purpose is to test a players endurance, Lenhart outlasted the speed-burners on the roster and made it all the way to the final three against midfielders Shea Salinas and Sam Cronin. With a strong effort over the last pair of runs, the strong target forward highlighted his fabulous work rate by leaving first Salinas, then Cronin, in his wake. The beep test victory was a great sign that Lenhart was already near his target conditioning state despite not training with the team in over six months.
Another player making a full return to training following a rough 2011 season was central defender Ike Opara. Having been a regular fixture at training at the end of the regular season, but forced to go at it at only half-effort, Opara looked no worse for the injuries that have curtailed his contributions to the Earthquakes in his first two seasons of MLS. He looked lively on the backline at Thursday’s session while anchoring the defense alongside Jason Hernandez during counterattacking drills. Head coach Frank Yallop confirmed that the team would not push Opara during the preseason, but Opara answered that his goal is to make the starting XI for the season opener March 10 against the New England Revolution.
The start of preseason training camp also signaled the first time that some of the Earthquakes newcomers had donned their brand new 2012 blue-and-black training kits. MLS veteran midfielders Marvin Chavez, Jean Alexandre, and Salinas went straight to work in the first week, while the newly drafted pair of outfielders Sam Garza and Jacob Hustedt had a different first week experience.
The trio of experienced veterans quickly adapted to the pace of preseason camp and made solid contributions to the on-the-ball drills that highlighted the later week sessions. Chavez seemed to keep his pace in check Thursday, and he was a quite exit from Monday’s beep test, but glimpses of his speed were evident in the counterattacking drill. Salinas looked match ready with his runs on Thursday, with the right sided midfielder even out running the forwards on numerous attacks. Alexandre played in a central role and looked comfortable in distributing the ball.
On the rookies, only goalkeeper Chris Blais trained at his full capacity in week one of preseason camp. The ‘keepers spent must of the sessions under the watchful eye of goalkeeper coach Jason Batty as they worked off to the side, but they did get a good look at the action in the counterattacking drills. Hustedt, the Earthquakes second round SuperDraft pick attended training, but was limited to stretching drills as he was still confined to wearing a walking boot on his foot. Injured at the tail end of the team’s December combine, Hustedt hopes to get out of the boot and back on the field by the end of January. Garza, who had a disappointing debut in Monday’s beep test, was ruled out of training with a cold, and was expected back by the beginning of next week. The quartet of players selected by the Earthquakes in Tuesday’s MLS Supplemental Draft are not expected to arrive in San Jose until the beginning of next week.
Missing from camp this past week were a few of the Earthquakes that are still recovering from offseason surgeries. Forward Alan Gordon, freshly signed earlier this month, was in Los Angeles recuperating from a hip surgery performed late in 2011. The target forward was expected back with the club in late February. Midfielder Joey Gjertsen was also undergoing rehabilitation away from the training facility, as he looks to return fully from offseason surgery sometime in February. Goalkeeper David Bingham, who suffered a calf strain while with the U.S. Men’s National Team U-23s in early January is still a few weeks away from joining the other Quakes ‘keepers for on-the-field training.
With roster spots still available going into the preseason, the Earthquakes hosted a large number of trialists during the first week of camp. Looking for depth at defender, a quartet of experienced hopefuls took the field at the NTF — former U.S. Men’s National Team U-20 and Los Angeles Galaxy defender Kyle Davies, USL Vancouver Whitecaps and veteran of the China Superleague Lyle Martin, current L.A. Blues defender Josh Suggs, and former NASL Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Philadelphia Union defender Cristian Arrieta. In the midfield, the Earthquakes welcomed a member of last year’s Portland Timbers squad, Rodrigo López. Joining Jon Busch and Chris Blais in goalkeeper training was a 2011 Supplemental Draft selection of the Houston Dynamo, Evans Newton. All six trialists are expected to remain with the team for at least the next few weeks as the coaching staff evaluates whether to invite them to stay longer through the preseason camp.
- Some of the newest members of the Earthquakes were assigned uniform numbers this week; they included Sam Garza (#19), Marvin Chavez (#81), Shea Salinas (#11), and Jean Alexandre (#14). Chavez wore number 18 while a member of FC Dallas, but that number belonged to incumbent Jon Busch with the Quakes. Instead of haggling with Busch over his old number, Chavez elected to go with the inverse jersey number instead. At least when he looks in the mirror, all will still seem normal for the Honduran midfielder.
- The players and coaching staff featured a new training jersey to start off the 2012 preseason. A primarily blue shirt with some black trim, the jersey is already available for sale in the MLS gear online store.
- The Earthquakes announced the addition of another preseason friendly to the schedule as plans were released for a return to San Luis Obispo for the Central Coast Classic. While en route to the Southland for a training stint in Ventura, the Earthquakes will make a stop at the Cal Poly campus to take on the Colorado Rapids in a Friday, February 10, match. Tickets are available through the Cal Poly Athletics ticket office.