One major component of the San Jose Earthquakes’ plan for how to deal with the burden of defending a Supporters’ Shield title and the addition of CONCACAF Champions League play is seeing increased contributions from young players who didn’t make much of an impact in 2012.
The man at the top of that list is happy to heed the call.
Second-year San Jose winger Sam Garza, the No. 6 overall selection in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, came to camp nearly 10 pounds slimmer after injuries wracked his rookie season. Garza saw just 102 minutes of MLS action last year -- although he did clock 590 minutes in Reserve League matches and another 155 minutes of U.S. Open Cup play -- while dealing with breathing problems, a broken rib, a sprained ankle and a broken wrist which eventually required surgery this offseason.
“Besides when I tore my ACL (causing him to miss the 2009 college season), I’ve never had a year where I’ve been injured so much,” Garza said of 2012. “With me obviously adapting to being a rookie and the speed of play and everything, not playing on a constant basis was pretty tough for me. I think this year I’m a lot more fit. I’m a lot more ready to go, I think.”
The Quakes hope so, certainly in the short term. With Simon Dawkins’ return at the mercy of Tottenham Hotspur and Marvin Chavez dealing with a knee injury of unknown severity incurred this month on Honduras national team duty, San Jose’s corps of healthy wing creators is shrinking. That means speedsters such as Garza and Shea Salinas will have a chance to impress San Jose’s coaching staff in the interim.
For Salinas, it’s an opportunity to match his flying start in 2012, when he started the first six matches -- producing a goal and two assists -- before being mauled by New York midfielder Rafa Marquez, whose tackle shattered Salinas’ left collarbone. The injury cost Salinas more than two months, and his bid to regain that form was further delayed by a hamstring strain in August.
Salinas said he didn’t change anything in terms of his off-season preparation
“There’s not much you can prepare for, (in terms of) shattering your collarbone,” Salinas said. “Just pray that no one tackles me this year and hopefully I’ll have a good year.”
As a sixth-year MLS veteran, Salinas doesn’t feel he has to re-establish himself with the San Jose coaches, who “know what I can do.” The same can’t necessarily be said for Garza, who remains a bit of a wild card.
“(It was) just a real weird year for Sam,” Yallop said of Garza’s rookie campaign. “And looking at him now, he looks ready to go. I like a lot of times when guys, especially rookies, figure out what it’s all about in year one. We can talk about (Steven) Beitashour and (Justin) Morrow. They figured out like, ‘OK, I can compete with these guys, I can’ play. But I’ve got to kind of get myself to be a better professional and actually don’t worry about the consequences of not playing well. Just keep going.”
Garza should be able to better fulfill that request in his slimmer format.
“Sprinting-wise, I feel a lot quicker, lighter on my feet,” Garza said. “And then also, (I’m able to) go for longer periods of time. That was my biggest concern last year, was being able to go for long periods of time, because my main asset is my speed, and maintaining that speed at such a high level for long periods of time was tough for me. So I think it’ll show a lot more this year.”