San Jose Earthquakes' coach Frank Yallop faced with dilemma in defense as internationals return

Jason Hernandez of the San Jose Earthquakes

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USA Today Sports

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Historically speaking, San Jose Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop generally likes to give a winning side a chance to repeat that feat the following week. That’s doubly the case for defenders who throw up a clean sheet.

Most weekends, however, he’s not getting back an MLS All-Star and a World Cup veteran in his prime. That would be left back Justin Morrow and center back Víctor Bernárdez, who return from national-team duty with the United States and Honduras, respectively, in their countries’ CONCACAF 2014 World Cup qualifying matches.

But with the quartet of – from left to right – Dan Gargan, Jason Hernandez (above), Nana Attakora and Ty Harden blanking Seattle last weekend, do the internationals slip right back into place?

Whatever decisions Yallop makes going into the Quakes’ road tilt against Houston on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, watch on MLS Live), he certainly has been enjoying the one thing that he and general manager John Doyle are always publicly striving for: competition for spots in the starting lineup.

Yallop said he expects all his absent players – not just Bernárdez and Morrow but also the half-dozen charges of his still recovering from injury, including right back Steven Beitashour, midfielder Marvin Chávez and forwards Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart – to have to earn their playing time.

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“They always do,” Yallop said. “They have to, right? For sure. I mean, you can’t just walk into a team if it’s still doing well. But we know the quality of all the players that are coming back.”

That the Quakes were able to put up their first clean sheet of the season despite having just one player – Hernandez – who would generally be considered a first-choice pick for Yallop is testament to the communication skills of the ninth-year MLS veteran.

Attakora credited Hernandez’s poise for helping him have a smooth performance in his first MLS appearance in nearly 18 months.

“A lot of it had to do with Jay,” Attakora said. “I felt his leadership tonight was great, and he just kept me – there were obviously a lot of nerves for me in my first game back since 2011. He just kept me confident and tuned in. So it was good to have him by my side.”

Hernandez’s role as the quarterback of the Quakes’ back four became more pronounced after the club gave up an inordinate amount of goals on plays where defenders weren’t necessarily on the same page.

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“We made a real strong effort this year to try to minimize the mistakes that are caused by communication errors,” Hernandez said. “We’ll take a missed assignment or a botched play here or there, but the communication was something that we are fully in control of. We feel like in our shape and with the guys we have out there, we can really provide a strong defense if we communicate right and get all the little nuances of the game under our belt and have good habits.”

Those open lines of talking also help San Jose integrate new players into their back four without suffering a drop-off in productivity, as was the case against the Sounders.

“We worked very hard during the week doing our shape and our organization and how we want to play,” Yallop said. “We don’t just throw guys out there and say, ‘Good luck.’ We work with them and make sure that they know exactly what we expect from the back four.

“And we don’t say, ‘You’re in now because of [an injury].’ It’s just, ‘You’re playing.’ It’s not like you’re second-rate. You’re in, so let’s go. It’s not a time to think, ‘I’m not good enough.’ It’s a chance to show us what you can do, and we know right away that if you play well you’re going to get some chances again.”