The Earthquakes worked assiduously in the offseason to address the lack of depth on their roster, and the results from their first three matches of 2010 showed signs of success with two victories.
Saturday at the Home Depot Center, however, San Jose had to make do without the one player they couldn’t afford to lose. And with Brazilian midfielder André Luiz knocked out of the lineup during warmups because of swelling and tightness in his troubled left knee -- the same joint that required arthroscopic surgery less than two months ago -- the Quakes were unable to replicate their earlier results, losing 3-2 to Chivas USA.
Watch: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
“That hurt us a lot,” said forward Chris Wondolowski, who scored for the second consecutive match. “He’s one heck of a player, especially with his composure. I felt that’s really what we were missing. He’s a great leader out there. He’s able to quarterback things and get us in the right places, calm us down in the right spots.”
Signed on July 31 of last season, André Luiz immediately jumped into the starting lineup at center midfield for a half-dozen matches. But he missed six of the Quakes’ final seven games due to left knee issues, and it never truly healed over the winter, eventually leading to an arthroscopic procedure on Feb. 26 to repair a torn meniscus.
Coach Frank Yallop admitted after the 2010 season opener that the Brazilian wasn’t 100 percent fit, but the 35-year-old’s skills are such that even at less than full strength, his place was still assured.
Until the balky knee said otherwise, that is.
“For some reason, his knee swelled up after practice on Friday, and we got the swelling down a little bit, but when he warmed up before the game, he said it didn’t feel right,” Yallop said. “We looked a little bit less imposing in the middle of the field without André. I think that he had a really good game with Brandon [McDonald] against New England; I was really looking forward to that partnership playing again.”
Ramón Sánchez started in place of André Luiz, sharing center mid duties with McDonald. Against a Chivas USA team that was flooding the middle of the field with bodies, the pair struggled mightily to generate any sustained build-up, forcing the Quakes to resort to passes over the top.
Case in point: San Jose’s first goal, scored on a penalty drawn and converted by Wondolowski, came about only because Joey Gjertsen managed to flag down a long pass from Bobby Convey at the end line.
Yallop tried finding a different combination that would unlock the midfield, giving rookies Omar Jasseh and Brad Ring their MLS debuts as second-half substitutes -- in the process, the 17-year-old Jasseh became the youngest Quake in history -- but nothing came of it.
Yallop felt the turning point was rookie Steve Beitashour’s missed header on a long pass from Michael Lahoud in the 87th minute, a mistake that Chukwudi Chijindu turned into a 1-on-1 chance against Joe Cannon, who couldn’t keep Chivas’ third goal out of the net. That negated Beitashour’s first career goal, a difficult left-footed strike from distance off a bouncing clearance during second-half injury time.
You could, however, argue the Quakes were placed in a deep hole when André Luiz was scratched, and never recovered their footing. And now the concern becomes whether the Quakes will have to sit him for a week or two to make certain the knee is good to go.
“What you don’t want to do is have it go on like this all season,” Yallop said. “I’m a little concerned. It’s not really painful, just puffy and a little bit sore. So I’m hoping that it’s a minor thing, get through the week and we should be alright by the weekend.”
Quakes fans don’t want to find out what will happen if it’s not.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @sjquakes.