The San Jose Earthquakes prepared for a difficult two game swing through the Rocky Mountain states with a pair of spirited training sessions Monday and Tuesday. With international call-ups Chris Wondolowski and Victor Bernardez fully back with the team, and Shea Salinas fully recovered from his broken collarbone, head coach Frank Yallop finally had all the pieces together for the first time since the middle of April.
“I’m excited to get the whole unit back,” said Yallop after Monday’s training session. “It is good, and strong, and aggressive and I full of confidence too. It is great to have everyone back healthy, and they get along very well as a group.”
On Monday, the team played a full-field 11 v. 11 intrasquad scrimmage under a basking sun, with team orange being captained by goalkeeper David Bingham and team blue under the watchful eye of Jon Busch. With Bingham set to start in the Earthquakes return to league play on Wednesday against Colorado due to Busch’s one game suspension, his charges in the scrimmage were made up of nearly the same line-up that started the 2012 season so well for the team.
“The team looks sharp, and the Colorado match marks the rest of the season kicking off for us,” said Yallop. “They are staying strong and confident and that has been a big part of us getting some wins this year.”
While scoring has been a big part of the Earthquakes early season success, the defense was a major factor in getting the team off to such a strong start to the season. However, when Bernardez went down to injury on April 14th against the New York Red Bulls, the team defense took a dip over the next eight MLS matches. Big Vic is back and healthy and is expected to start against the Rapids. His partner in the middle of the Earthquakes defense Wednesday night has a good chance of being Jason Hernandez.
“The break was very good and allowed some guys to get healthy,” said Hernandez. “We have a lot of games coming up, so guys are going to get their chances to play, but what is most important is that we keep our shape defensively and make it hard on our opponents to break us down.”
Having Bernardez back in the starting line-up will be a big help in making is difficult for opponents to score on the Earthquakes, but almost equally important will be the return of Wondolowski, and his MLS-leading 11 goals, to forward line. Having played sparingly while on duty with the U.S. Men’s national team, Wondolowski is ready to return to action for San Jose and partner up top with Steven Lenhart.
“I enjoy playing with him and he keeps me calm,” said Wondolowski. “When the whistle blows we go 100% and are both very intense out there. We feed off each other’s energy and off each other’s runs, making it hard on the defense and giving us better possession high up the field. Hopefully we can go out there in Colorado and get some chances and finish them.”
Salinas took the field for Team Blue, with Simon Dawkins playing the wide left midfielder position for Team Orange. And while Salinas looked solid in a Reserve League Match earlier this month, coach Yallop suggested that the midfielder would take on the role of substitute, leaving Dawkins as his first choice selection for the starting XI.
“Simon is such a good player that we play better when he plays well,” said Yallop. “It might not be his natural position to play wide left, but he does a great job for us out there. He is really contributing for us, and takes his chances to play up top as well.”
A scary moment occurred during Monday’s scrimmage when Steven Beitashour and Sam Garza collided along the sideline while both going for a loose ball. It appeared that neither player expected the contact, with both players playing the ball and not the man. Beitshour went high for the ball and his knee made contact with Garza’s back, and both players crumpled to the ground. And while Beitashour was able to quickly recover, Garza remained prone on the pitch while being attended to by team trainers. He was cautiously removed from the field and remained under the careful evaluation of the trainers.
The injury proved to be extensive, as X-rays later Monday revealed two broken ribs for Garza. The recovery period is expected to last 4-6 weeks, meaning Garza will miss the entirety of the team’s very busy July schedule. The rookie midfielder had impressed in a pair of U.S. Open Cup matches over the last few weeks, and now will need to restart his season once again in August.