With Opara on the mend, Quakes must regroup
From Ike Opara’s perspective, the worst part about getting injured – worse than the surgery he’ll undergo, the weeks of action he’ll miss or a potential Rookie of the Year season derailed – might be the fact that there’s no good story to go along with the injury that sidelined him.
“I’m more shocked than anything, because of the way it happened,” Opara told MLSsoccer.com. “It wasn’t even giving a tackle. I was pretty much by myself. So it’s a little disappointing.”
Opara fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot during the Earthquakes’ 1-0 loss to Seattle last Saturday.
It might be more disastrous than merely disappointing for the Quakes, who are caught short on the back line because of injuries to Chris Leitch (strained left hip) and Steven Beitashour (broken right hand).
Coach Frank Yallop told MLSsoccer.com that he’ll probably move Brandon McDonald from holding midfielder to center back, although he also threw out the possibility of using rookie Brad Ring at right back and sliding Jason Hernandez from that spot back to the middle.
In addition, usual right winger Joey Gjertsen spent a half at right back after Leitch was injured in a friendly against Tottenham last month.
“It is [a big loss], but I just said to Ike, we’ve won some games without him, so let’s get back to being strong and dynamic on defense,” Yallop said. “We have a good squad. ... We have options. We’ll be OK. I’ve done a couple lineups on the board and it still looks decent. I’m not worried about it.”
Moving McDonald to center back is the most obvious choice because he previously played there for the Los Angeles Galaxy and also for the United States National Team during their January training camp.
“Obviously, it’s a different type of running [than at center midfield] and there’s stuff that you have to get used to, but I’ve been back there before and it shouldn’t be a problem,” McDonald told MLSsoccer.com.
McDonald had some bad news for Quakes fans: He incurred the same injury as Opara’s while he was a junior at USF, and had surgery to place a screw in his foot to promote proper healing.
So, McDonald was asked, how long were you out for?
“A few months,” McDonald said. “You’ve got to learn to walk again.”
Opara, the No. 3 overall pick in January’s MLS SuperDraft who planted himself immediately in San Jose’s starting lineup, is also set to undergo surgery, although it’s not known if he will definitely need a screw implanted.
He did say that he’d been told there was a six- to eight-week schedule for rehabilitation, but he feels that was a “worst-case scenario” and hopes to speed up the timetable.
Opara said the injury, which wasn’t immediately obvious to observers, occurred in the 49th minute when he tried to change direction suddenly and planted his left foot. He had been closing out on Seattle’s Fredy Montero, who was receiving a pass out of the Sounders’ back line some 40 yards from goal, when Montero touched the ball to an onrushing Sanna Nyassi.
Opara quickly took off in chase, and as Nyassi’s too-strong first touch rolled over the end line, the former Wake Forest All-American pulled up limping.
“The pressure of the stud under my shoe got me,” said Opara, who didn’t realize the extent of the injury at first. “I knew something happened, but I didn’t think it was broken or anything like that. Towards the end of the second half, I was definitely feeling some discomfort.”
Goalkeeper Jon Busch allowed that Opara’s absence is a big loss, but noted that San Jose's upcoming opponent – a Colorado team which has gone 0-2-5 since June 5 – isn’t going to give any quarter based on the injury list.
“Ike’s been tremendous, all season for us, but we just have to get on with it and plug somebody else in there,” Busch told MLSsoccer.com. “We have a job to do, regardless of who’s on the field, and I’m never one for excuses. The bottom line is, we need results, and it doesn’t matter who’s on the field. The result is the bottom line.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes