Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop wouldn’t go so far this week as to explicitly name his planned replacement for suspended right back Chris Leitch when San Jose faces Chicago on Saturday. But he left the door for interpretation open pretty wide.
And fans of hometown rookie Steve Beitashour should be pleased with the result.
The choice to fill in for Leitch—out after drawing a red card during the second half of the Earthquakes’ season opener—comes down to Beitashour versus fourth-year pro Bobby Burling.
Except Yallop makes it sound like not that much of a choice, given the Fire’s quickness on the flanks.
“Bobby’s more experienced, Steve’s more a natural right back,” Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s give and take. Both are capable. I think with Chicago’s speed—Steve is quick, and they’ve got fast guys wide. Bobby’s 6-foot-5, and he’s a center back, really. Read into that what you want.”
It reads as Beitashour, a second-round SuperDraft selection, is set to make his debut just two games into his MLS career, giving the Earthquakes two rookies on their back line. Ike Opara, the No. 3 overall pick, should make his second start at center back alongside Jason Hernandez. Captain Ramiro Corrales will hold down the left side.
“I think I’ve seen enough in Steve and in Ike to trust them and not worry about them,” Yallop said. “Many a player plays [early in their career] in this league, because it makes you do that. Omar Gonzalez (the Galaxy’s eventual 2009 MLS Rookie of the Year) played all last year, started the season out, and he’s been great. We expect the same from Ike, and I expect Steve Beitashour to play well, also.”
Beitashour acquitted himself well during preseason matches, and Brandon McDonald, who is slated to step in at defensive center midfielder, has confidence in the rookie.
“He’s a good young guy,” McDonald said. “He’s got a lot of pace that he’s going to add to the outside. He’s young, but I think the back line that we have, with Jay back there and Ramiro, can teach him a little bit.”
Beitashour, a 23-year-old graduate of San Jose’s Leland High School, grew up watching the earlier incarnation of the Earthquakes, and even worked the sidelines at Spartan Stadium on occasion—much to the chagrin of one of Beitashour’s new teammates.
“It’s kind of embarrassing—he said he was a ballboy for one of my games,” quipped 35-year-old goalie Joe Cannon.
Beitashour still remembers the pain Quakes supporters felt in 2005 when the team decamped to Houston. That was part of why he attended a March 16 meeting of the San Jose City Council and spoke out in favor of the team’s proposed new stadium. The council voted later that night to remove one of the project’s last bureaucratic hurdles.
“I went as a fan, a player, a member of the community and on behalf of friends and family,” Beitashour said. “[In 2005,] guys went from loving the sport and loving the team to having no team to cheer for. It was like, ‘Where’s your team now?’”
The only downside to Beitashour’s probable debut is its timing. He had 40 friends and family at the Quakes’ season opener despite the fact that he wasn’t even on the team’s 18-man active roster; had Beitashour been expected to start at Buck Shaw Stadium instead of Toyota Park, that number might have reached triple digits.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @sjquakes.