During the winter, it made perfect sense for Chivas USA to select April 24 as the date for their first-ever Salvadoran Night at the Home Depot Center. After all, in addition to the hosts’ own Osael Romero, the Earthquakes would be bringing another two members of the El Salvador national team: Arturo Alvarez and Ramón Sánchez.
So much for that perfect plan.
Thanks to a strained left hamstring, San Jose is counting on usual starter Alvarez as a short-time substitute, if he gets off the bench at all.
As for Sánchez, it will likely be another match on the outside of coach Frank Yallop’s starting XI. The 27-year-old, who has 55 caps for the Salvadorans and served as captain during their World Cup qualifying campaign, can barely get a sniff for his MLS employer.
It’s a strange situation for a midfielder who signed with the Quakes midway through last season and made an immediate impact on the floundering club.
Before Sánchez’s arrival in July—part of a major midseason shakeup—San Jose was 3-10-4. In 10 matches with Sánchez—all 10 being starts—the Quakes posted a 3-3-4 mark. Yet Sánchez has been pushed to the bench in 2010, seeing brief stints as a reserve in two out of three Quakes matches to this point.
“Last year, my play got me a new contract for this season, so I felt like I played OK,” Sánchez told MLSsoccer.com through an interpreter. “This year, things haven’t gone as well for me. I need to play better, but I have hope.”
Part of the problem is an enviable scenario for any team: The addition of new players has improved the talent level of the squad as a whole, making competition for spots keener. In Sánchez’s case, he’s been hurt indirectly by the emergence of rookie center back Ike Opara.
With Opara already a fixture in the back line, the Quakes can afford to move Brandon McDonald to center midfield, where he’s thrived, leaping ahead of Sánchez on the depth chart.
Yallop said he “feels sorry” for Sánchez’s predicament, but makes no apologies for putting together a side that carries a two-match winning streak into Saturday.
“I have no issues with Ramón,” Yallop said. “He’s a good player. It’s unfortunate we have a number of good ones, and it’s my choices that are the reason he’s not playing. It’s not his form.”
So, what can Sánchez do to make himself a more attractive candidate?
“A lot of times you go with your gut feeling, and how [the opponents] are going to set up and all that,” Yallop said. “We didn’t have as many options last year, and it’s not Ramón’s fault. He’s done fine; he’s done nothing wrong. He’s a good player.”
In the meantime, Sánchez keeps himself prepared for an injury or someone else’s loss of form to provide him an opening.
“I know that, sooner or later, I’ll get an opportunity, and I have to take advantage of that opportunity to get back into that starting role,” Sánchez said. “Of course it makes you feel better, personally, if you are part of the team winning. But the most important thing of all is the team winning.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @sjquakes.