As heavy schedule hits, Quakes lean on fresh faces

Tressor Moreno

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Getty Images

SAN JOSE, Calif. – For San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Sam Garza, the sixth overall pick in this year’s MLS SuperDraft, the toughest part of his rookie season has been the lack of playing time.

The wait for Garza – and other less-used Quakes – might be over very soon.

With first-place San Jose facing their first three-match week of the year, coach Frank Yallop makes no bones about what to expect from his club against Philadelphia Union on Saturday, D.C. United next Wednesday and the Vancouver Whitecaps on May 5.

“There will be lineup changes,” Yallop said. “You can’t travel all the way over [to Philadelphia], come back and be dynamically fresh Wednesday night, if you’ve played 90 minutes.”

Through seven matches, only 15 Quakes have reached a total of 90 minutes this season, and Yallop pointed to Garza, Jean Alexandre, Sercan Güvenisik, Ellis McLoughlin and Brad Ring all as possibilities for inclusion in the upcoming week.

“Of course everybody wants to play,” said Güvenisik, who has received just 10 minutes so far since becoming MLS’ first Turkish player. “I wouldn’t be a professional soccer player if I say I don’t care. I’m not here for making holidays. I hope to get my chance.”

While Alexandre, McLoughlin and Ring are still waiting for their first action of 2012, Garza at least had a chance to get his feet wet with an 8-minute stint in San Jose’s 3-1 victory over Real Salt Lake last Saturday, a spell that marked his MLS debut.

“It was the best feeling in the world,” Garza told MLSsoccer.com. “I was the happiest kid on Earth. I enjoyed every little bit of it.”

Garza admitted that it was tough to swallow not playing more off the bat, a fact that will be brought into sharp relief Wednesday when D.C. United come to California with Nick DeLeon, the midfielder picked immediately after Garza. DeLeon, whose stock dropped considerably on draft day, has started six of D.C.’s eight matches, and provided three goals and three assists in 523 minutes.

“He’s a great player and, obviously, he deserves to be playing,” Garza said. “I kind of look at that as motivation for me to try to get on the field. If a player like him can be playing, I definitely think I have the ability to be playing as well.”

The Quakes have listed Víctor Bernárdez (sprained left knee ligament), Shea Salinas (broken left collarbone) and Alan Gordon (strained left hamstring) as definite non-participants for the Philadelphia trip. Left back Ramiro Corrales told MLSsoccer.com that he also will not be making the flight due to a strained right calf, although the team captain did say he expects to be available Wednesday and beyond.

That’s the kind of conservation tactic that Yallop will be taking into account when he makes out his lineup cards, planning not just for the first match but the week’s workload as a whole.

“I’ve got to look at what we’re trying to do over the three matches,” Yallop said. “A lot of the guys are going to get minutes. I’ve just got to figure out the combinations that are going to play well against Philly.”

For players that do get the rare call-up, making the most of that time is critical. Tressor Moreno (above), the Quakes’ highest-profile off-season signing, got into the starting XI on Saturday for just the second time this season, and earned what Yallop described as his “trust” with a solid performance.

“I’ve got to know what you’re going to do on the field,” Yallop said. “Now I know [with Moreno], it’s going to be good. He kept the ball well, he was dangerous, he worked hard – which are all the things we need.”

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