There were times last season when you would have forgiven San Jose Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop for thinking he was channeling Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H. Fitness problems forced him to juggle lineups practically from match-to-match.
This year, Yallop is looking forward to something different: Actually coaching, rather than simply trying to piece together the least-worst collection of banged-up players.
“Right now, I can pick and choose and play people where I feel it’s right,” Yallop said as the Earthquakes prepare to open the 2010 season Saturday at home against Real Salt Lake. “And there’s no spot that’s guaranteed for any of the guys, which is great for me, because you’re not playing guys out of form. If they’re not quite feeling it, you can leave them out and put in someone who’s ready to go.”
Yallop churned through 25 different lineups last season, including one setup which made him pause before submitting his 11 to the officials.
“We had to play [center back Bobby Burling] at left back in one game. I look back now and it’s like, ‘Whoa,’” Yallop said. “It’s unfortunate for him to put him there; he wasn’t overly comfortable.”
One could knock the Quakes for failing to make a big-name signing in the offseason. The way general manager John Doyle would spin it, though, is that the side is better off shoring up several different thin spots rather than just pouring all its money into one player.
“Frank has a much harder job as far as deciding who’s starting this year, whereas last year, with injuries and with some of the performances it was made pretty easy for him: ‘Shoot, I’ve gotta play these guys,’” Doyle said. “Brandon McDonald, he’s been a little injured, but he’s finding it a little hard to get into the [starting 11]. Last year, we would have just shuffled him in—‘Hey, are you healthy enough? Get in there.’”
Even before it starts, the 2010 campaign has not been injury-free. McDonald has been slowed by a hamstring problem developed while training with the U.S. national team a couple months ago. New acquisition Eduardo strained a hip before the team’s training camp trip to England. Midfielder Andre Luiz needed arthroscopic surgery to clean up a knee.
The team took a highly cautious approach with all three players, figuring that missing more time than necessary in March was preferable to sitting out matches in April, May or June.
“I kept looking at [McDonald] and saying, ‘Are you OK?’” Yallop recalled. “He said, ‘It’s a bit sore.’ And we ended up saying, ‘You’ve got to get it right, because we’ve had all those niggling injuries all last year on everybody. You’ve got to get it sorted out.’”
Now it’s up to Yallop to put all those bodies to good use. The coach used El Salvador international Arturo Alvarez—who bounced around last season on the wings and up top—as an example.
“I think the squad now is real solid, and where Arturo plays is up to him and me,” Yallop said. “That goes along with all the players, and I think that that’s healthy.”
Healthy in more ways than one.