Even without a midweek game on the schedule, the first time that has happened in some time, the San Jose Earthquakes had a busy week of training. What started with the official news that Tressor Moreno and Anthony Ampaipitakwong were no longer on the roster finished with confirmation that forward Steven Lenhart was in fact suffering from concussion-like symptoms and was out of the line-up indefinitely.
The ledger was not without some additions, as the sight of Simon Dawkins back training with the team was a step forward for the Englishman from his shoulder injury. The talented midfielder was not pronounced fit to start this weekend against Real Salt Lake, but head coach Frank Yallop did expect to have him available on the bench. Good news also come with watching rookie Sam Garza kicking the ball and participating in fitness drills with the rest of his Earthquakes teammates, though he said himself that he’s another 2 to 3 weeks away from really testing his healing ribs in full contact team scrimmages. Even Joey Gjertsen has spent more time with his mates at training, though he still was limited to off the ball exercises.
The Earthquakes player roster has officially been trimmed to 27 players, and the team reportedly has a small amount of salary cap space remaining to perhaps bring in another player or two to add to the team’s depth. Keeping atop the MLS standings doesn’t necessarily require new additions, but much like a pennant contender in the major leagues, acquiring that proverbial “big bat” or “late-game closer” are the types of moves that can propel a team forward in their postseason aspirations.
But, to date, the Earthquakes haven’t made a public move in that direction. In simple mathematical terms considering the news of the week in San Jose, coach Yallop has broken even with Moreno out and Dawkins in. The additional loss of Lenhart tilts matters away from where Yallop might want to have his roster, but the coach remained hopeful that his impact striker would not be lost for an appreciable amount of time. Effective super-substitute Alan Gordon will have his chance to prove he is healthy enough to be a 90 minute player in upcoming home games against RSL and FC Dallas.
For the match against Real Salt Lake, currently second in the Western Conference standings behind the Earthquakes, captain Ramiro Corrales will sit out a one game suspension, leaving a hole in the midfield he has filled the past few games. Speedster Shea Salinas has looked as fit as ever in training and might be the guy to insert back into the starting line-up, perhaps lined up with Marvin Chavez on the other wing. The central duo of Rafael Baca and Sam Cronin has excelled as of late, but lurking in the wings is Khari Stephenson, who could push Baca to the wing replacing Salinas. Stephenson was limited in training this week with a slight knock, but Yallop said he was fit and available for the weekend.
After two very encouraging performances from the defense in road matches at Portland and Dallas, the back line continues to settle into a reliable starting four. Steven Beitashour, Jason Hernandez, Victor Bernardez, and Justin Morrow — with goalkeeper Jon Busch standing behind them — will look to post their second straight clean sheet when RSL visits Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday. The foursome spent a week training fully and looks primed to anchor the Earthquakes against a potent Salt Lake attacking corps that includes Alvaro Saborio, Fabian Espindola, Javier Morales, and Kyle Beckerman. Keeping RSL off the board will not be easy, but other than a wonderful Morales free-kick goal at Rio Tinto last June, the Earthquakes did shutout their high powered offense during the run of play.
At the top of the Earthquakes 4-4-2 formation will patrol ironman Chris Wondolowski and target man Gordon on Saturday. The duo have started together the past two matches, and Wondolowski has not netted in those two games, but the pair have shown this week in training that they are becoming more familiar with each other on the field. Gordon will be called on early and often to occupy RSL defensive all-star Jamison Olave in the attacking third in order to free up space for Wondolowski. If the Earthquakes can resume the determination they showed earlier in the season to possess the ball and press into the opponent’s area, scoring opportunities should open up through crossing passes and set pieces.
Who will be the first Earthquakes forward off the bench to perhaps spell Gordon late in games with Lenhart unavailable? While Stephenson remains the likely choice to enter the game in that situation, or even Dawkins until the Englishman is fit to start, the Earthquakes could call upon little used Turkish striker Sercan Guvenisik or rookie Cesar Diaz Pizarro. Of the latter two, Guvenisik is more likely to make the match-day 18, but with a big body like Lenhart not in the mix, Diaz Pizarro might get a seat on the bench instead. Both players took in as much finishing practice this week at training as anyone else but Wondolowski.
Lastly, the Earthquakes have not had any trialists in with the team in quite a few weeks, but academy goalkeeper and current Santa Clara University student Kendall McIntosh has been getting some training time in with the club. The young ‘keeper has looked sharp both in drills and in scrimmages, an encouraging sign for the team that the goalkeeper position is in good hands in the future.