Puzzle pieces still missing as Quakes near year's end

San Jose defender Ike Opara at the team's training camp.

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of SJ Earthquakes

SAN JOSE, Calif. – For the second consecutive year, San Jose Earthquakes defender Ike Opara is finishing his MLS season out of sight when it comes to coach Frank Yallop’s choices for a game-day 18.

Yet Opara, 22, takes heart in the fact that he has been very visible at the Quakes’ training sessions in the past few weeks as he begins his rehabilitation from a broken bone in the bottom of his left foot – the same injury that brought his rookie season to an early halt in 2010.

“I’m back training, doing whatever I’m allowed to do,” Opara told MLSsoccer.com. “I’m happy with that. It’s better than ending it sitting in the bleachers, on crutches or in a boot. At least I’m back being active for the time being.”

While he hasn’t been participating in full-sized scrimmages, Opara has been cleared to do individual work during practice and has taken part in some possession and team-shape drills.

“Everything I’ve done has been good,” Opara said. “We’ve upped it up each week, and so far, so good.”

Opara, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft and a former All-American at Wake Forest, originally broke the foot later that year against Seattle on July 31, and missed the Quakes’ ensuing run to the Eastern Conference Championship.

He rebroke the foot in the same spot on June 2 of this year, stopping suddenly in practice after tracking down a lead pass with the recovery speed that made him a starter almost as soon as he got to the league.

Despite the similarities of the circumstances in which his injuries occurred, Opara doesn’t feel like he’ll have a confidence problem when it comes time to chase after a long ball over the top of San Jose’s defense.

“I didn’t think about it last year, I didn’t think about it when I was coming back, I didn’t think about it this year,” Opara said. “It’s just a matter of being in a comfortable situation. Next year, there’s no setbacks. If there’s a day where it’s sore, [I’ll] wait it out, make sure it’s not pain or a possible break, whatever it may be.”

Here’s a look at some other Quakes who have been out on long-term absences:

Steven Lenhart, forward: The 25-year-old Southern Californian hasn’t made a public comment since going out in mid-July on family leave after his father’s unexpected death earlier this year, but the Quakes sound confident he will play again in 2012.

Understandably, San Jose’s brass would like it to be for them; with Lenhart in the starting lineup this year, the Quakes went 4-3-6. Without him, those numbers dropped to 3-9-8.

Alan Gordon, forward: Gordon was acquired July 14 by the Quakes in a four-player deal with Toronto FC, and he scored once in two appearances before succumbing to injuries originally incurred while at TFC. The 30-year-old underwent surgery Aug. 9 to repair tears in an abdominal muscle and both hip adductors.

Gordon was hoping initially to be back in a matter of weeks, but when the Quakes fell out of playoff contention, the rehab shifted focus to 2012.

“It was a pretty extensive surgery, so I didn’t necessarily take my time, but it’s taking time [to heal],” Gordon said. “The most important thing at this point is to be healthy for next year.”

André Luiz, midfielder: The 36-year-old Brazilian hasn’t played for the Earthquakes since June 5, 2010, but his contract – which is up at the end of the season – was guaranteed, so he remained on the roster.

San Jose general manager John Doyle said André Luiz is currently working out with Corinthians of São Paulo in an attempt to come back after surgery earlier this year – the third procedure done in the last 15 months on his battered left knee. The Quakes plan on bringing him in to training camp next season to see if there’s any way that he can continue a professional career that began in 1993.

“It’s not good,” Doyle said. “He’s had everything: The first surgery was to fix some of the ligaments, the second surgery was to clean out some of the cartilage and the third surgery was to clean out the cartilage that wasn’t there again.

“He’s trying everything humanly possible to play soccer, and you guys will walk away better than him [health-wise]. At the ripe age of 40, he’ll need a knee replacement.”

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