The San Jose Earthquakes opened their preseason camp under sunny blue skies at their training field adjacent to Avaya Stadium. A break in the El Nino-fueled storms that have rolled into the Northern California for most of January is allowing the team to get in full sessions in week one of a six-week preseason before the Quakes MLS season opener on March 6.
In a wide-ranging interview with Center Line Soccer last week, head coach Dominic Kinnear detailed the strategy for building the Earthquakes roster ahead of the 2016 campaign. He now has had a few days to see the players on the field and, because of some injuries and absences, remains cautious about how the perceived depth of the roster will help his team to start the season.
"I think we've improved all three lines," said Kinnear after the team's Media Day training session. "A forward, a midfielder, a defender, and a goalkeeper in the draft. Adding guys who know MLS as well as guys with experience was good for us. These players are going to make us better."
Forward Chad Barrett, midfielder Simon Dawkins, defender Andres Imperiale, and goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell were all added to the roster, with both Barrett and Tarbell among the players on the training pitch Tuesday.
"But we're only deeper in theory. We've got guys missing right now, so that tests you right away. Guys important to the team that are not participating everyday show that you are not as deep as you thought you were."
The two international signings Dawkins and Imperiale have yet to arrive in San Jose, primarily due to the process of securing their work visas and International Transfer Certificates. Kinnear remains cautiously optimistic that both can join the team prior to the Earthquakes first trip of the preseason next week to Arizona.
"Hopefully we will have them by the weekend, and I say that with fingers crossed," said Kinnear. "It's totally out of our control, but we're hoping to have them here so when we get on the plane for Arizona, they are with us."
Goalkeeper David Bingham, currently training with the U.S. men's national team in Southern California through the beginning of February, will likely rejoin the Earthquakes upon their return from Arizona on February 10. Kinnear is also without the services of four players that are on the comeback trails from injuries: Fatai Alashe, Marc Pelosi, Innocent, and Jordan Stewart.
"If at the end of preseason, they are still in question, then yes. If you look at the names on paper, I think we are a deeper team, but the day-to-day is what you want to answer positively."
The injury report does not extend past those four players, and all of them are expected back into training before the end of preseason. The biggest name on the list, forward Innocent, suffered a season-ending injury last May and is still not at 100%.
"He's okay, but he's still far away," said Kinnear. "He's staying out of the real contact stuff, so we are trying to bring him along slowly and make sure that when he is ready to go, and if a tackle comes, he can handle it without thinking twice about it."
On Tuesday, Innocent participated fully in non-contact scrimmaging drills, but he was held out of a more physical activity later in the session. At the tail end of last season, he did start to work with the team again, foreshadowing a possible return to the field before the close of the Quakes season. However, he did not progress as hoped, and 2016 became the new target for his return to action.
"There was a little bit of a setback," said Kinnear. "He was training one day and had a little bit of pain, and we realized we were chasing something that was not a good idea. So we decided to wait and get him going for next year."
Stewart, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury last summer, has worked diligently since then to get back into the team. He had his contract option declined to start the off-season, but was re-signed by the club earlier this month. All the while, Stewart did not let his physical shape decline, and he was out on the training field Tuesday, separate from the other players, kicking the ball around like there was nothing wrong with him.
"He's still a little bit away," said Kinnear, who told Center Line Soccer last week that he is hopeful to have Stewart back into full training in a couple of weeks. "I'll give the guy a ton of credit for his work in the gym and what he's done. He's in great shape still, and he's given himself a great chance to come back in a good way rather than having to work himself back in."
For both Alashe and Pelosi, who had to withdraw from the U.S. men's national team camp that Bingham is a part of even before it began, their paths to recover are similar, though the timelines are slightly different. Alashe underwent hernia surgery a week ago and could return in "about a month," according to Kinnear. Pelosi, who is suffering from tendinitis, has a much brighter path back to training.
"Arizona is what we're looking at," said Kinnear. "Today is his first day out on the field, and by Arizona I expect he will be wearing soccer cleats and touching the ball."
The Earthquakes play their first preseason game on Wednesday against the club's Academy team as part of an exclusive season ticket holder event. During the trip to Arizona, the Quakes are scheduled to play three matches, one against the New England Revolution, before returning to the Bay Area. Preseason friendlies against LA Galaxy, Sacramento Republic FC, and the New York Cosmos round out their preseason slate of games. San Jose kicks off its 2016 MLS regular season against the Colorado Rapids at Avaya Stadium on March 6.
Training Camp Notebook
- Last week, Kinnear stated that forward Steven Lenhart, a fan-favorite and originator of the "Goonies Never Say Die" slogan in 2012, had likely played his last game for the Earthquakes. Limited to a handful of appearances in 2014 and none in 2015 due to a knee injury, Lenhart was going to get evaluated by the Quakes training staff to start the preseason. On Tuesday, Kinnear reiterated his comments from the week before, saying "It's looking pretty bleak for Steven, to be honest."
- There were no new updates on the status of midfielder Leandro Barrera, who reportedly has signed to play with a club in his native Argentina. Kinnear stated last week that Barrera's time with San Jose was likely through, though the mechanism of his departure had not been determined.
- Every year, to start preseason camp, the Earthquakes hold a number of physical tests, including the infamous "beep test" running drill. In past years, it was often a rookie that won the test, including JJ Koval two years ago -- and bucking the trend, last year too. With a chuckle, Kinnear announced that the 2016 winner was MLS SuperDraft third round selection Kip Colvey. Bragging rights go to the potential rookie -- he is not yet under contract -- something the team's veterans will be pleased to afford him.
- As part of an off-season renovation to the Earthquakes training facility, a completely new grass surface was installed throughout the entire 85 by 140 yard facility. Lush and green -- and benefitting from the wet winter thus far -- the surface was immaculate and was given a thumbs up by players as they left the field at the end of training. When the facility was built back in 2010, it was announced that the total investment in the project was over $1 million.