With the 2016 Copa America Centenario kicking off in less than a week, teams around Major League Soccer are dealing with the aftereffects of losing key players to international duty. You see, while the league does have a short break planned during the group stage of the tournament, it still has games scheduled in the days leading up to the event, when call-ups have already joined their respective national teams.
The San Jose Earthquakes have four key starters participating in the Copa America: leading scorer Chris Wondolowski (USA), midfield maestro Simon Dawkins (Jamaica), man in the middle Alberto Godoy (Panama), and dynamic winger Alberto Quintero (Panama). All four were on the field for the Quakes last Sunday in an impressive 1-1 draw against the LA Galaxy at the StubHub Center.
On Saturday, as MLS plays a full slate of matches, the Earthquakes will play host to FC Dallas at Avaya Stadium, and head coach Dominic Kinnear will be without the service of his top four players. Dallas will have two absences of their own, but it will be San Jose that feels the pinch more, though Kinnear hopes that we not effect the attitude of his club.
"Not at all," said Kinnear. "You have to have confidence in your whole squad, and we do. We are going to step on the field with an aggressive approach."
In the Quakes last game at home, a 2-1 victory in a friendly against La Liga side Real Sociedad, Wondolowski scored both goals for San Jose. During MLS play, Wondo has netted seven times -- good for fourth best in the league -- and his scoring punch will be missed. Godoy and Quintero, the heroes of the Earthquakes 3-1 win against the Houston Dynamo the week before, both were given MLS Player of the Week consideration, with Quintero finishing second in the balloting. Dawkins, signed as a Designated Player in the offseason, is living up to that billing in recent weeks.
The task of beating FC Dallas this weekend, and the Portland Timbers midweek, both games ahead of the MLS break, will be that much harder.
"No, I don't think so," said Fatai Alashe, who will be tasked to take over Godoy's role as the primary central defensive midfielder. "We are all confident in the guys we have coming in, they've all been doing well throughout the year and they've been waiting for a chance to show themselves."
Alashe has been a significant contributor for the Quakes since arriving as a rookie last season. His runner-up finish in the voting for the 2015 MLS Rookie of the Year was testament to his importance to the club. Against FC Dallas, he will be paired up with another young Earthquake, talented midfielder Tommy Thompson.
"Everyone on the team is capable of playing at a high level," added Alashe, "so that doesn't change any of the preparation on our standpoint. We're going to go out there and play the same way we have been."
Another welcome addition to the starting line-up is expected to be forward Quincy Amarikwa, who has been out over a month with a hamstring injury. Rested and ready to go, Amarikwa, the Earthquakes leader in assists, arrives just in time to replace Wondolowski as the team's primary offensive threat. He sees the opportunity his other teammates have to step up in the absence of the Copa America call-ups as crucial to the team's success.
"It's going to allow the guys that have been working hard day in and day out for the first couple of months of the year to prove their ability to fill roles as needed and perhaps earn themselves a longer term position," said Amarikwa. "Having depth and competition at every spot on the field is important for a team, because there are stretches of time where players are injured, are away on international duty."
The Earthquakes will be without their Copa quartet for at least three games -- FC Dallas, at the Portland Timbers, and at Orlando -- and possibly a fourth -- the summer California Clasico at Stanford against the LA Galaxy -- if their participating nations advance deep in the tournament. In addition, a midweek U.S. Open Cup game at the Timbers will also be played in that time span.
"It's important that the rest of the guys are tuned in and ready to be contributors to the team," concluded Amarikwa.