SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Jose Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop said Thursday that some lesser-used members of his squad are “dying to play.”
If that’s true, no one is ailing more than Simon Dawkins.
The 24-year-old impressed in his debut MLS season last year, scoring six goals and adding two assists in 26 appearances while on loan from EPL giant Tottenham Hotspur. But by the time another loan deal was worked out for this season, the Quakes had already installed so many new players that Dawkins couldn’t crack the starting XI immediately.
“We know Simon’s a quality player,” Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “He showed that last year. He’s impatient this year.”
He need not be anymore. With Shea Salinas out for at least 6-8 weeks following surgery on his broken left collarbone, Dawkins -- who’s played just 130 out of 540 minutes to this point -- will get first chance at making left midfield his personal fiefdom, beginning Saturday when the Quakes host Real Salt Lake (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online)
WATCH: Dawkins nearly ices it
While Dawkins was saddened to see Salinas get hurt by the dangerous play of New York midfielder Rafa Márquez, he also recognizes the door that has opened for him.
“I want to play,” Dawkins told MLSsoccer.com. “I’m just happy that I’m fit and I can step in.”
Dawkins will enter the starting lineup at a somewhat critical juncture for the Quakes, and not just because they lie second behind RSL in the Western Conference standings, two points back with a game in hand.
Since returning to the MLS fold in 2008, San Jose are 1-5-3 against RSL. That includes an 0-3-1 mark over the past two years against head coach Jason Kreis’ squad, a stretch in which the Quakes have produced a grand total of zero goals.
Getting on the scoreboard, therefore, and parlaying that output into points in the standings off RSL would mark another significant step forward for San Jose after last year’s 8-12-14 showing -- especially if they can do so without Salinas, right winger Marvin Chavez (serving a one-game suspension) or center back Victor Bernardez (sprained left knee ligament).
“They’re a great side,” Quakes forward Alan Gordon said of RSL. “We’ve had some good success at the start of the season, and it’s going to be a good test to see where we are as a team. It’s going to be a test to see how deep our team really is.”
Given that RSL has built their possession game around quarterback Kyle Beckerman, the Quakes’ midfielders need to go toe-to-toe with their opposite numbers if San Jose is to change the series’ recent history.
“Our midfield has been doing an amazing job this whole season,” Quakes defender Justin Morrow told MLSsoccer.com. “They’ve been winning second balls, they’ve been pressuring the hell out of the other team, forwards included. So I think that’s going to be the difference between this year and past years (against RSL). Having Shea out is going to hurt us, but Simon’s going to step in and do just as good a job.”
With the switch, San Jose are trading Salinas’ raw speed for Dawkins’ quickness and guile. Where Salinas would attempt to pull a defense out of shape by outrunning his defenders in an end-line sprint, Dawkins looks to open passing lanes by holding the ball, and forcing an extra defender to commit to him.
The Englishman is particularly adept at creating one-two plays with teammates, as the Quakes saw Thursday in training, when Dawkins exchanged incisive passes with Chris Wondolowski and hammered home a goal during the club’s scrimmage.
“It’s going to change a little, but I’m going to bring the same energy, because Shea’s done a great job,” Dawkins said.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.