Earthquakes' Morrow still has eyes on left back spot

San Jose's Justin Morrow

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SAN JOSE, Calif. – San Jose Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop told reporters Tuesday that Justin Morrow “looks right at home” as a center back.

But Morrow, who sees himself as a fulltime left back, isn’t filling out a permanent change-of-address card to the center of the defense just yet, even if injuries have been pressing him into that service lately.

“I wouldn’t say that so much,” Morrow said when asked if he was reinventing himself as a center back. “I’m just trying to help out the team when they need it. There’s guys that have been hurt, Ike [Opara] has been away, so I was just trying to fill in as much as I can. We’re all team players here. I’m going to do what’s best for the team, but I still consider myself a left back.”

With Jason Hernandez just coming back from a calf strain and Víctor Bernárdez also recovering from a sprained ankle, Yallop said Morrow “most probably” will start in the middle Saturday when San Jose begin their 2012 campaign at home against New England (10:30 pm ET, MLS Live). Morrow – the Quakes’ second-round pick in the 2010 SuperDraft – is expected to line up alongside either Bernárdez or Opara, who recently returned from a successful stint with the US Under-23 national team.

“[Morrow] has got qualities in that position,” Yallop said. “He’s got pace, he’s brave, he’s got good clean feet. He’s learning the game, but I think he’s well-equipped to play that position. He played a lot of minutes [at center back] in the preseason and has done very well.”

At left back, Morrow’s speed and athleticism were often on full display during the final stretch of 2011, when the Notre Dame product made his mark. After appearing only once in San Jose’s first 24 matches, Morrow started eight of the final 10, and the Quakes were 2-2-4 in those contests – a number that looks better in the context of San Jose’s 8-12-14 overall record.

Morrow said he’s at ease in the middle after getting so much time there during preseason.

“Maybe I need to put a little weight on before I truly play there,” he joked, “but I feel good there.”

The temporary move puts on hold the need for Yallop to make a final decision at left back. Veteran Ramiro Corrales, who played all over the field in 2011, made known to Yallop his desire to stick with one position this year, and the longtime captain has been used almost exclusively at left back in preseason.

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

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