Looking back at the week leading up to the Earthquakes road trip to Toronto, head coach Frank Yallop set up his training schedule to minimize some of the effects that come with playing matches three time zones away from San Jose. The team held its regular training sessions at their San Jose facility in the morning hours on Monday through Wednesday. On Thursday they departed for Toronto with a plan to eat, sleep, and be merry on west coast time.
“It’s never easy,” said coach Yallop Tuesday afternoon when talking about eastern time zone road trips. “You try to get it out of your mind and get your rest when you can. That is why we go out on Thursday and get a good night’s sleep Thursday night. I try to keep them on Pacific time, so breakfast is late at 11 o’clock when it is normally at 8 a.m. Game day is a little bit different because we’ll bring up breakfast a little bit. With a kickoff at 1 which is 10 o’clock (here), it is just like practice. We practice around 10 so it is similar to that so it should be okay.”
The Earthquakes head north of the border having never lost to Toronto FC at BMO Field in MLS play. Last season they earned a hard fought draw at the iconic lake front stadium, and in 2010, they survived a Dwayne De Rosario check (cheque?) signing celebration and rode a Chris Wondolowski hat-trick to victory. However, the team’s confidence took a hit with their 2011-esque loss to Houston last weekend, and they looked to right the ship with a series of intense training sessions this week.
Tuesday morning saw the Earthquakes take the training facility field with a squad of 26 able bodies. Following conditioning drills, the players were divided into three squads for a long series of intra-squad scrimmages. Featuring for the “Blue” team were Sam Cronin, Jason Hernandez, Shea Salinas, Steven Lenhart, Marvin Chavez, Chris Wondolowski, Tressor Moreno, and Ramiro Corrales. Donning the pinnies for the “Yellow” team were Steven Beitashou, Victor Bernardez, Justin Morrow, Simon Dawkins, Khari Stephenson, Alan Gordon, Rafael Baca, and Sercan Guvenisik. Rounding out the trio was the “Orange” team comprised of Sam Garza, Josh Suggs, Brad Ring, Jacob Hustedt, Anthony Ampaipitakwong, Cesar Diaz Pizarro, and Jean-Marc Alexandre. Goalkeepers Jon Busch, Evan Newton, and David Bingham rounded out the squads.
The teams were clearly assembled to put the first choice offense (Blue) against the first team defense (Yellow), and those battles did not disappoint. Notable in those contests was how effective Dawkins looked on the ball, and just how physical Gordon could be off the ball. In fact, the Yellows put up quite a battle against Wondo and crew, proving just how solid the defense has been to start the season. The Orange squad, perhaps sensing their place in the hierarchy, played with great intensity and showed some fine performances from Diaz Pizarro and Ampaipitakwong.
Looking very good over the course of the round robin was Moreno, who finally looks to have moved past a calf injury suffered in the preseason. His fitness now seems to be where he needs to be in order to start for the Earthquakes, but whether Yallop goes with that decision against Toronto FC remains to be seen. Meanwhile, with Gordon back training with the team, the obvious comparisons come to him and Lenhart as first choice target forward.
“Alan’s fit, but he’s going to be a little bit behind playing-wise with his fitness,” said coach Yallop of Gordon, fresh off his second day of training with the team. “But what he does well, he does the things he’s good at well. Holding the ball up, dangerous in the box, knows his limitations which is great. He plays that target forward position well.”
With Gordon still a week or two away from competing for a spot in the matchday 18, Lenhart has time to fend off the veteran forward for playing time in coach Yallop’s preferred line-up.
“If you looked at Lenny’s first game to his second game he looked better on Saturday,” declared coach Yallop. “I thought he played well and a little unlucky not to score. The one header he is a little bit unlucky that the ‘keeper kind of challenged him at the same time. He had the turn and volley in the first half, he had the shot on the run left footed in the second, so he had chances. For me, he is settling in and will be fine in the end.”
Putting pressure on both target forwards is veteran striker Guvenisik. While perhaps not as fleet of foot as he might have been early in his career, the Turkish striker has been steady in training and showed well in his MLS debut off the bench last Saturday against the Dynamo. He has a chance to earn more minutes, especially if he can show coach Yallop that he can advance the offense without needing to play as a traditional target forward, but seems better suited for the role of “instant offense” off the bench.
Missing from training on Tuesday was forward Ellis McLoughlin, who was said to be taking the day off from on-field practice. Also not present were injured Earthquakes veterans Tim Ward and Joey Gjertsen. Both players are still rehabilitating injuries and do not have a specific time table for their return to full fitness. The last missing Earthquakes player from the 30-man roster was U.S. Men’s National Team U23 defender Ike Opara, who will be away from the Earthquakes until the conclusion of CONCACAF Olympic qualifying later next week. Finally, the bevy of trialists that have graced the Earthquakes training facility through the last few weeks were also absent, as the team concentrates on preparations with the players already under contract.