SAN JOSE, Calif. -- For defender Jason Hernandez, the San Jose Earthquakes’ 20-day break to make way for World Cup pool play couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Quakes managed to pluck just one point from three matches in an eight-day span before the break, and were noticeably sapped when MLS players packed their bags.
“We got a draw against Columbus, which was a good result, but the other two, we felt we could have done better in,” Hernandez said.
With the break, “we could get guys some rest, get some injured guys healthy, regroup and get back to the blue-collar work that got us results in the beginning of the season.”
Too bad it wasn’t that simple for the Quakes, who return from their hiatus tonight in Utah against Real Salt Lake.
Instead of getting healthy, San Jose’s injury list is just as daunting as it was before, and in some ways, worse:
-Midfielder Andre Luiz was placed on the disabled list pending knee surgery.
-Midfielder/forward Arturo Alvarez reinjured the hamstring that’s bothered him on and off for the last two months.
-Forwards Eduardo and Scott Sealy, plus midfielder Joey Gjertsen, all continue to be stuck in injury limbo and aren’t available tonight.
“That’s five pretty good players right there,” coach Frank Yallop noted grimly.
In order to maximize his talent on the pitch, Yallop has been using the break to experiment with different combinations of players. Most notably, it appears he could use all three of his center backs at the same time.
For the last week’s training, the first team featured rookie Ike Opara, now fully recovered from hamstring and shoulder problems, teamed with Bobby Burling in the middle, while Jason Hernandez slid over to his original MLS position of right back.
Hernandez hasn’t played right back regularly since he was an MLS rookie with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars in 2005. Chivas USA converted Hernandez to center back the following season, and he’s been there ever since.
“It’s a bit of an adjustment for me; I’m just doing my best to fit into the system,” Hernandez said. “I think Frank, as a right back himself, has an idea of what he wants out there, and if he feels like I can provide that for him, then I’m happy to be the man for the job.”
It’s no guarantee that Hernandez will start on the right, although it’s made more likely by the fact that rookie Steven Beitashour, who has split the right-back role to this point with veteran Chris Leitch, spent much of the break working at right midfield. Gjertsen had been starting in that spot before suffering a thigh injury, and Alvarez could have played there as well.
Beitashour has played some right mid already in games for the Quakes, and spent plenty of time there last year at San Diego State.
“With my pace, (Yallop) just keeps telling me, ‘sprint, sprint, let them hit it long to you,’” Beitashour said. “I have no problem playing out there. I’m ready to take it on.”
It also doesn’t hurt that Beitashour would be able to provide the kind of defensive help that Yallop likes to see in his wings.
“I’m just trying to shore up (our defense),” Yallop said. “We’ve conceded seven goals in our last three games. We’ve got to make sure we get better at that and just get the team back on track.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes