The San Jose Earthquakes’ run to the Eastern Conference Championship did come with one blemish: Captain Ramiro Corrales will miss Saturday's match at Colorado due to the right hamstring injury he suffered during the Quakes’ 3-1 series-clinching victory at New York last Thursday.
“Corrales will be out unless a miracle happens,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop told MLSsoccer.com's ExtraTime Radio on Monday, adding that he's still mulling over how that will affect the lineup at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. “I’m a little undecided. I have my thoughts. … I’ll pick the team by Wednesday.”
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Although Jason Hernandez did a credible job both wearing the armband and keeping the Quakes’ defense in shape while Corrales missed 10 regular-season matches due to a sprained knee, there’s no doubt the team would rather see Corrales on the pitch than in street clothes.
“He’s such a great player, a great leader, especially on the field,” Quakes MVP Chris Wondolowski said. “Having his leadership out of the lineup is definitely going to hurt.”
Corrales is coach Yallop’s first choice at left back, where he formed a stout defensive pairing with winger Bobby Convey. Assuming Corrales isn’t miraculously healed by the time San Jose face Colorado on Saturday, Convey may have to move once again to a defensive role.
[inline_node:317279]That’s what Yallop did when Corrales had to come off just before halftime at Red Bull Arena, bringing on Eduardo as a forward and dropping Ryan Johnson to left midfield and Convey to the back line.
Convey, however, has made clear his preference to stay as a two-way midfielder rather than work primarily on defense, and putting him back there has its pitfalls.
Finally healthy after microfracture surgery three years ago, Convey is one of the league’s most dangerous left backs on the attack – as shown by his second-half goal and assist against the Red Bulls from that spot. But he also isn’t a natural defender – as shown by his inattention to New York striker Juan Pablo Angel, who made a simple back-post run and enjoyed a free tap-home header for the Red Bulls’ only goal.
The most likely other option for Yallop is to flip Tim Ward from right back to left and slot Chris Leitch in at right back. Ward has played both sides through his MLS career but has seemed more comfortable on the right with San Jose.
“We can use Bobby at left fullback, but his favorite position and the better one for the team is at left midfield,” Yallop told ExtraTime Radio. “Maybe Chris Leitch can come into the team, but I’m undecided right now.
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“We’ve had good results with Tim Ward at left and Chris at right. We could go to that,” Yallop added. “I’m probably leaning towards that to make one change to the lineup.”
Whatever Yallop’s decision, the Quakes can take heart from the fact that they went 6-2-2 during Corrales’ absence earlier this year.
“You never want to lose such a quality player as ‘Rams,’” Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch said. “But we have dealt with not having him for large parts of this season, and we’ll do the same. Whoever Frank plugs in I’m sure will do a hell of a job.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes.