Even before the season began, San Jose Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear made it clear that he wanted his roster to be ready for any and all situations they might face. Knowing that international call-ups to the 2016 Copa America Cenentario would play a factor, he constructed a squad that had depth at every position.
And now that depth will be tested, as the Quakes have lost four starters to international duty ahead of a pair of tough intraconference contests -- FC Dallas at Avaya Stadium on Saturday and in Portland against the defending MLS champions on Wednesday.
San Jose's leading scorer Chris Wondolowski (USA), midfield maestro Simon Dawkins (Jamaica), main 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 -- will not be available this week and next.
But Kinnear did receive some good news when target forward Quincy Amarikwa was ruled available to face Dallas, somewhat mitigating the loss of Wondolowski. And Shea Salinas and Tommy Thompson will step in for Quintero and Dawkins with little drop-off in quality in the midfield. As for who replaces Godoy? That role goes to second-year midfielder Fatai Alashe, who routinely serves as the Panamanian's understudy in the Earthquakes line-up.
"He's really important for us," said Kinnear. "His games, as this season has gone along, have been getting better."
Alashe finished his first year in MLS as a mainstay for the Quakes, and he finished second in voting for the MLS Rookie of the Year award. This season, he has taken a few months to shake off the rust from a preseason injury, but now Alashe is asserting himself well on both sides of the ball. Against the Galaxy, Alashe had to contend with a star-studded attack, and he will need to do the same against Dallas and their potent midfielder Mauro Diaz.
"Mauro Diaz is such a good player for them and makes a lot happen," said Kinnear, "so Fatai has to be aware of where he is. Especially when we turn the ball over, Diaz can find those gaps to release the ball, so Fatai needs to stay close to him, and, if he needs to, be physical with him. You have to make sure he doesn't go through the game feeling that he had a nice time."
But it won't just be Alashe's responsibility to mark Diaz. He will also need to provide a link between the defense and the offense, especially on the break. In addition, his role will require a higher level of communication with the players around him, something Godoy has been exemplary at as a central midfielder.
"It's going to be a good opportunity for Fatai to get more experience as the main guy in the midfield without Godoy around," said Amarikwa. Everyone on the field is confident in his ability to play that defensive role. It will be important for him to be a vocal leader and a strong presence in the back to keep Tommy in a good defensive shape and help our attack going forward."
Whereas Alashe will take on the Godoy role against Dallas, Tommy Thompson is expected to step into the Alashe role. The possible central midfield duo would mark the youngest pair of starters at that position this season, but Alashe doesn't see that as an issue and expects the Quakes will still come out with the same aggressive tactics that they've shown all season.
"We'll continue to play the way we've been playing," said Alashe. "Our back line has been tremendous so far this year, so I believe we should be able to take care of their attack and, hopefully, finish some chances ourselves."
"They have a potent attack," added Alashe, "but we once we wrest control of the ball, we need to hold possession. The more we have the ball, the less opportunities they will have to score goals."