As the schedule draws to a close, so, too, does the window for rookies to make an impact in the 2010 MLS season.
Just ask defender Justin Morrow, a second-round selection of San Jose who was loaned Tuesday to the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the USSF D-2. Or Steven Beitashour, another second-round pick who was passed over at right back against Houston on Sunday in favor of Chris Leitch – even though the nine-year veteran hadn’t played a league match in three months.
Better yet, just talk to Omar Jasseh, the 17-year-old Gambian who, in April, became the youngest Quake to ever earn a regular-season MLS cap. Since then? He has earned only 48 minutes of league play.
Fans left jaded by missed chances on the part of Ryan Johnson and Cornell Glen and the injury-induced absences of Eduardo and Scott Sealy have been clamoring for Jasseh’s top-of-the-line speed to be put to use somewhere on the field, even though the teen has been used solely at right midfield this year.
Coach Frank Yallop, however, remains unmoved.
“Omar’s still a young kid that’s learning the game, and he’s got a ways to go,” Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “We like his potential, but it’s not all about dribbling by guys and crossing it. It’s about playing the whole game: defense, shape, activity, all the things I want him to do that he’s got to learn.”
That’s not to say Jasseh is overmatched by MLS competition. In his last appearance, against New York on Aug. 28, Jasseh entered in the 63rd minute and needed less than two minutes on the pitch to beat the Red Bulls defense down the right wing.
From that wide position, Jasseh delivered a sparkling cross for Glen, who got a left foot to the ball at the top of the 6-yard box but couldn’t really control his shot, which sailed high.
“I’m waiting for my chance and my time,” Jasseh told MLSsoccer.com. “That’s why any time I have a chance, I need to always do more and try to impress the coaches and the fans. ... I would like to learn from some of my mistakes.”
Jasseh got that chance earlier in the season when he spent three weeks away from the Quakes as part of the Gambian Under-20 National Team, which was participating in the 17th African Orange U-20 Championship. The Young Scorpions advanced in the tourney via a 4-1 aggregate win against Sierra Leone. Jasseh scored a goal in Gambia’s 4-1 home victory on July 26.
“It was a very good experience for me, because it was my first time playing for my country,” Jasseh said. “I was very, very excited. ... One of the [Quakes] coaches was telling me I’m more savvy now, because I played more games there. It’s helped me, playing with different countries and different players.”
Yallop and the Quakes hope that Jasseh will get a similar chance next season with the potential return of the MLS Reserve League.
“The thing is that he needs games,” Yallop said. “He comes back [from Africa], looks sharp and now he starts to fall away a little bit.”
Jasseh admitted that he has struggled with the greater emphasis placed on defense for wingers in Yallop’s system, who are often asked to track far back into the Quakes’ third for support.
“Because of my strength, I’m very good going to the front and doing some things – even in England, my coach didn’t give me much to defend,” Jasseh said. “You see [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo, they don’t go defend much. They just do their things [offensively].
"They still have to help, but not like 100 percent. You might defend 40 percent. Here it’s different – you’re running everywhere, and sometimes that takes me out of the game.”
Even so, Jasseh remains an option on the Quakes bench, especially when Yallop feels the need for more speed on the flanks is called for.
“When he came in, he was a bit raw, and the confidence that it shows for coach to put him into close games, late, shows that he’s come a long way,” Quakes captain Jason Hernandez said.
“For being such a young player, he’s able to be dangerous for us going forward and help us out defensively. I think the more he plays and the more he grows, he’s going to be more of an asset to us.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes