Quakes' depth to be tested by rigorous July schedule

Omar Jasseh

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SJ Earthquakes

SAN JOSE, Calif. — It’s been more than 10 months since Omar Jasseh appeared in a competitive match for the San Jose Earthquakes.

Even so, general manager John Doyle isn’t ready to write off the young Gambian just yet. Asked a couple of weeks ago if he ever expected to see the oft-injured Jasseh (pictured above) suit up in Quakes colors again, Doyle looked somewhat taken aback.

“God, I would hope so,” Doyle told MLSsoccer.com. “We brought him in here to have him play.”

If Jasseh is going to get that chance in 2011, July would seem to be the natural place for that to happen. The Quakes — who visit Chivas USA on Wednesday night (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE  online) — have a schedule this month laden with eight matches, including an exhibition against English Premier League side West Bromwich Albion, so San Jose’s depth will be at a premium.

Jasseh has wrestled much of the year with a hamstring injury that waxed and waned, but he has been training fully of late, and launched an impressive left-footed strike from distance during an 11-on-11 practice session last week.

“I was troubled a little bit with this hamstring problem, so I’ve been working it for five weeks,” Jasseh told MLSsoccer.com last week. “I think I’m ready now to make my debut this season.”

Of the 23 field players currently on San Jose’s roster, Jasseh is one of only three who have not made an appearance for the Quakes this season; the others are midfielder André Luiz and defender Tim Ward.

While the 36-year-old André Luiz continues to battle against an uncooperative left knee that’s generated more surgeries (two) than matches played (zero) over the last year, the versatile Ward appears, like Jasseh, to have turned the corner on his own hamstring situation.

Ward made 13 appearances with the Quakes last year after being acquired on Aug. 8 from Chicago and was expected to battle for the starting spot at right back. Instead, he got hurt before the season began — being scratched at the last moment from San Jose’s last preseason match — and didn’t really recover until receiving a cortisone shot at the end of May.

“That helped,” Ward told MLSsoccer.com. “If I didn’t get that, I don’t know where I’d be right now. It definitely doesn’t feel like it’s tearing anymore, so I can push through it. I’m getting my match fitness and sharpness back.”

While neither Jasseh or Ward are likely to jump right into the 18 against Chivas, coach Frank Yallop did allow that he may make some lineup changes based on avoiding fatigue — even if a player is still in good form.

“There’s certain guys who are going to play,” Yallop told MLSsoccer.com, ticking off the names of defender Jason Hernandez, goalkeeper Jon Busch, forward Steven Lenhart and attacker Chris Wondolowski. “Those guys are going to play, but there are positions where we can liven it up a little bit, and we can obviously keep players fresh for [future games].”

One change Yallop will have to make is at center back, where Hernandez will have a new partner in the wake of Bobby Burling’s ejection last Saturday against New York. The most likely choice is Chris Leitch, a natural right back, although Brad Ring and Justin Morrow have seen time at center back in practices as well.

Regardless of who fills in for Burling, Yallop will be leaning on Hernandez to keep a tight ship along the Quakes’ back line. The coach feels Hernandez “is back to his best” as a linchpin of San Jose’s defense.

“We’re fortunate enough to have a lot of versatile players on our team, so whoever steps in I’m sure is going to be able to do the job,” Hernandez told MLSsoccer.com. “I’m just going to kind of do the same things that I do week in and week out, do my best to keep the back four organized and keep our shape and be difficult to break down. Whoever we plug in, if we can keep that same mentality, I think we should be alright.”

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes