The San Jose Earthquakes scored a stunning upset over the Seattle Sounders last weekend, but it did not come without cost to head coach Dominic Kinnear's squad. Injuries and a key suspension have changed the outlook for the starting eleven Kinnear will likely employ this Sunday when the Quakes face the Chicago Fire in the official grand opening of Avaya Stadium.
The first, and most glaring, absence will be that of center back Victor Bernardez, who was shown a straight red card for a high tackle on Sounders midfielder Michael Azira 10 minutes into the second half. The Quakes had to play a man down for 40 minutes after that, but they still managed to eke out an important 3-2 road victory.
The foul Bernardez committed sure looked red-card worthy -- and in real time maybe worth an additional penalty tacked onto the compulsory one-game suspension it earned -- so the Honduran will be forced to sit out the Avaya Stadium opening against the Fire. The Earthquakes could have appealed to MLS to have the red card reconsidered, but that course of action was never considered.
"I can't complain about the call," said Kinnear, discussing the matter after Tuesday's training session. "During the game, I looked at it from far away and I was, "Oh no." And then when I saw it on the replay I could see where the referee was coming on that.
"I don't think we are appealing it. We haven't spoken about it and I don't think we are going to bring it up."
The Quakes will have to do without their other starting center back from the Seattle game as well, as Paulo Renato had to exit that game with a hamstring injury and has not returned to full training. The Portuguese player has been a very good find for Kinnear and made a strong claim to hold the center back position in the starting line-up when healthy. There is no timetable for when Renato will be ready to return to the team.
"He's just hanging out and is a long shot for the weekend," said Kinnear. "He felt his hamstring pull a little bit."
Without Bernardez and Renato, Kinnear will turn to two of the three healthy players left at that position. Clarence Goodson, who hasn't played a competitive match since last July and suffered an injury setback in preseason, is nearing availability. The Quakes emergency center backs against the Sounders, Ty Harden and JJ Koval, will also be considered.
"You can do the math, it's quite simple," said Kinnear, when asked who would start against the Fire. "We have a couple guys that are out. Clarence is back, Ty and JJ played pretty good at center back, so they will be the three candidates for the two spots rights now."
Koval, normally a midfielder, has been pressed into a center back before. During his rookie season, he and Harden had to start in the heart of the Quakes defense in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Toluca, a game San Jose eventually lost on penalties. Harden scored the goal in that game off a set piece, and Koval looked comfortable in the enforcer role at center back. Both might get the start against Chicago if Goodson is not deemed ready to go by the weekend.
"We took Clarence on the road trip, just to kind of get him in and around the group," said Kinnear. "It's been a while, so he's training this week, he trained yesterday, and even trained a little bit last week. Obviously we want to make sure that he's feeling really good because he's been out for quite a period of time. If the game were to be tomorrow, I'd imagine he'd be available for it."
Availability across the entire back-four took another blow this week with the announcement that defender Brandon Barklage and the Earthquakes had mutually agreed to part ways. Barklage played sparingly for the Quakes, usually at right back, since joining the team through the Re-Entry draft last season. His exit comes on the heels of another lost right back in Pablo Pintos, who was cut near the end of the preseason. Neither player was a threat to start as long as newcomer Marvell Wynne remains healthy and available. Cordell Cato and Harden will be Wynne's primary backups.
Some good news for the defense came with the return of veteran Jordan Stewart to training this week. The Englishman has battled niggling injuries throughout the preseason, but Kinnear indicated that he has ramped up his participation at times in training to full speed. Shaun Francis has played well at left back to start the season -- he can even play on the right if pressed into action -- so Kinnear has not felt the need to rush back Stewart.
Midfielder Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, who suffered a slight quad strain in practice last week, prompting Kinnear to call on rookie Fatai Alashe to start and play 90 minutes against the Sounders, is also expected to be available against the Fire. Forward Steven Lenhart is another returning veteran, as the target forward was a part of Tuesday's training session and will be available for selection on Sunday.
Kinnear reported the rest of the squad that played in Seattle came through without concern. Innocent Emeghara, who scored a world-class goal while the Quakes were a man down and was nominated this week for MLS Goal of the Week, was pressed to play 90 minutes against the Sounders because circumstances dictated it. Kinnear indicated that he had hoped to sub off the designated player, especially as he is still working his way back to full fitness following a preseason shoulder injury, but was nonetheless pleased with the shift that he was able to provide.
The Earthquakes designated player trio of Emeghara, Matias Perez Garcia, and Chris Wondolowski -- who looked fantastic on the field together in Seattle -- are all healthy and expected to start on Sunday.