One of the more underrated summer signings in all of MLS in 2015 was made by the San Jose Earthquakes in bringing in Panama midfielder Anibal Godoy. Since joining the Quakes, Godoy has been nearly flawless, scoring two goals and owning the defensive midfielder responsibility. In his 10 appearances over the last half of the season, San Jose has enjoyed a 6-1-3 record.
But yellow card accumulation will keep Godoy out of the Earthquakes line-up when they travel to Frisco, Texas for a season finale showdown with the Supporters Shield seeking hosts FC Dallas. San Jose needs a victory against the Western Conference leaders to realistically keep their playoff hopes alive.
And that will leave it up to another underrated summer signing by MLS to step it up in the Panamanian's absence, as former Liverpool FC youth player Marc Pelosi, who joined the Quakes via the Allocation Ranking List in July, is expected to take Godoy's place in the Earthquakes Starting XI on MLS Decision Day.
Pelosi, who starting out as a stand-out youth player in San Jose with De Anza Force before leaving to join Premier League giants Liverpool in 2011, has the tools to replace Godoy, but he is still developing the mental and physical toughness that is a hallmark of the Panamanian International's game. Still, the U-23 U.S. men's national team star is not short on grit and talent and will take the field on Sunday in the biggest game of his short Earthquakes career with the confidence spending four years plying his trade in England granted him.
And beside Pelosi in the line-up? Not a veteran, but fellow rookie Fatai Alashe, the Quakes first round draft selection in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft and 26-game starter for San Jose in his first season out of Michigan State. Alashe, who just turned 22 years old earlier in the week, is teammates with Pelosi on the U-23 USMNT and is no stranger to partnering with his fellow rookie in training and in games.
But, with its season on the line, San Jose will make a big ask of its rookie midfield duo, something that head coach Dominic Kinnear is not at all worried about heading into Sunday.
"If I wasn't confident enough in them, I wouldn't consider them to play in there," said Kinnear following training on Friday. "Obviously, Fatai has done a great job all year and with Godoy out it opens the door for Marc."
With preparations for FC Dallas well underway by week's end, it appeared all but certain that Alashe and Pelosi would be selected by Kinnear to start at Toyota Stadium. And none other than club MVP Chris Wondolowski endorsed the duo as the Quakes made their final preparations for the season finale.
"Pelosi has really added a spark," said Wondolowski, "and it will be tough to lose Godoy who has always been great for us. But having Fatai and Pelosi for us, we don't drop off much at all. Them having a couple big games as part of Olympic qualifying has helped them get ready for this as well. They'll be ready to go."
In the just completed CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament, the USA failed to secure an automatic bid to the 2016 Rio games, losing to Honduras in the semifinal round via a disappointing 2-0 defeat. The Yanks battled back in the third-place match, however, with Pelosi scoring the winning goal in a 2-0 win over Canada. The U-23s now face a home-and-away series with Colombia for the final berth in next summer's Olympics.
With such high-pressure games on their resumes, Alashe and Pelosi will bring a hefty dose of confidence to Sunday's must-win match. But if that was not enough, U.S. senior team international Wondolowski has let the rookies know that he trusts they will do everything they can to help lead the Earthquakes to victory against Dallas.
"Just keep doing what you're doing," Wondolowski said he told them during training this week. "They've brought a great mentality to our locker room and onto the field."
While Pelosi has yet to find the net for San Jose, Alashe has collected two goals and an assist this season for San Jose. Neither will be asked to shoulder the offensive load -- that will be up to forward tandem Wondolowski and Quincy Amarikwa -- but they both will need to bring their "A" games to stop the likes of Dallas stars Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz. Do that, and maybe the Quakes will get the postseason berth they crave.
"These guys are good players," said Kinnear, "and you're asking them to step on to the field for one reason: Do your best and play your best to help the team have a chance to make the playoffs."