Quakes' Hernandez set to start in conference championship

Defender optimistic about calf injury; Yallop wary of weather

The San Jose Earthquakes got some good news on Friday after a week of worrying about the most vital part of their back line.

Defender Jason Hernandez worked out with the club for the second straight day after missing sessions earlier this week with a strained calf muscle.

He’s expected to get the start when the Earthquakes take on the host Colorado Rapids in the Eastern Conference Championship at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Saturday. (9:30 pm ET, FSC)

“I was at full strength today, so that’s a great sign,” said Hernandez, who tweaked his calf before the Earthquakes’ 3-1 win last Thursday in the Eastern Conference semifinal series against New York. “I was very nervous about it this week, so to come out and test it today and for it to feel good, that’s a very good sign for me.”

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Hernandez has dealt with calf issues as recently as the 2009 preseason, when he suffered a similar injury while with the US national team camp in January of last year. Injuries limited him to just 16 games last season before he returned this season to make 27 starts and lead the Earthquakes to their first postseason berth since the franchise was reborn in 2008.

“I know how it goes, and it can be a tricky injury,” Hernandez said. “It’s mostly about rest right now, but hopefully on Saturday it’s still feeling great and there's no soreness and no setbacks.”

Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop said he was optimistic to see his 27-year-old defender back in the mix, especially with captain Ramiro Corrales on the shelf with a hamstring injury suffered in the New York series.

“He trained well and finished practice, but sometimes you get a reaction the next morning,” Yallop said. “But I expect him to play.”

Yallop also said rookie center back Ike Opara is “probably not available” for Saturday night, despite finally returning to training for four days this week after breaking his left foot on July 31.

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Weather Woes

The skies were clear and sunny on the Colorado Front Range Friday, but they’re not expected to remain that way Saturday night. The forecast as of Friday afternoon called for a 30 percent chance of snow showers and temperatures in the mid 30’s around kickoff, giving both teams an extra element to consider with a berth in the MLS Cup on the line.

“We gotta make sure we don’t give up any silly things in the back. We can’t try and play our way out of tight situations and if we have to clear it, clear it out of there,” Yallop said. “Conditions do play a part, and you don’t want to overplay in conditions like that.”

“We’ll make our guys aware of what might happen – rain, sleet, snow,” Yallop added. “But that’s Colorado in November.”

Busch Back Again

Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch will take part in his fourth consecutive conference championship game on Saturday night, the only player still around in the 2010 postseason to boast such a streak.

Busch started in goal for Chicago in 2008 and 2009 when the Fire reached the Eastern Conference Championship before eventually losing to Columbus and Real Salt Lake, respectively. In 2007 he was the backup in Chicago to current Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens when the Fire fell to the New England Revolution.

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Busch also played in the conference final in 2002 with the Columbus Crew, who lost the three-game series on aggregate to the New England Revolution. He’s never appeared in an MLS Cup.

“It either means I’m that lucky, or that unlucky, depending on how you look at it,” Busch said. “Part of it could be luck, and part of it could be that I do my part in the team, and for whatever reason, my teams get there.”