San Jose Earthquakes piecing together backline ravaged by international departures, injuries

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose Earthquakes knew they’d probably be facing a squeeze on their backline at this point of the season. They just never guessed it’d be this tight.

The Quakes had planned for center backs Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson to potentially miss several matches as they searched for World Cup glory with Honduras and the US, respectively. But with Bernardez receiving a one-game suspension on Thursday from the MLS Disciplinary Committee, Jason Hernandez just getting back into training after nearly two months lost to a quad injury and right back Andreas Görlitz lost for the season with a torn ACL, San Jose are searching for available bodies at one of the worst possible times.

The Quakes travel Saturday (10 pm ET, MLS Live) to face league-leading Seattle just as Sounders forward Obafemi Martins, snubbed from the Nigerian squad, is telling The Seattle Times he plans to “play my own World Cup” against MLS sides.

“I’m thinking crazy thoughts,” San Jose coach Mark Watson joked to MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. “We’re kind of looking through everything right now. We’re obviously short on defenders. We’ll look at all our healthy defenders in different spots.”

The original plan at the season’s outset was to use Hernandez and Ty Harden as cover for the next few weeks in place of Bernardez and Goodson. That blueprint needed refining due to Hernandez’s injury, and Plan B bit the dust when Bernardez – who had been afforded a late arrival time to Honduras’ World Cup camp to face the Sounders – drew a one-game ban for stepping on FC Dallas forward David Texeira during the Quakes’ 2-1 win last Saturday.

Now Watson will have to craft a new backline, and it could feature the same center-back pairing that was pushed into emergency duty at Toluca in CONCACAF Champions League play two months ago: Harden and rookie midfielder J.J. Koval.

“J.J. is an option,” Watson said. “Jordan Stewart’s an option. Ty Harden, obviously, has done really well, so he’ll be in there as well.”

Stewart, ordinarily San Jose’s left back, is an option in the middle because backup Shaun Francis, who’s been nursing a left hamstring problem, is “pretty close,” according to Watson.

“I think he should be available Saturday,” Watson said.

Given that Goodson is expected to miss a minimum of four league matches, holding Hernandez back rather than rushing him back on Seattle’s artificial turf is the better long-term bet.

“Jay’s getting there,” Watson said. “He’s been working hard. He’s been in training now for almost a week, and he’s getting closer but still has a ways to go.”

Said Hernandez: “If Watty calls my number and he needs me to step on the field and get the job done, I’m going to do it. I think in a perfect world, everyone would probably want a nice, easy program to get back and get healthy, but if I can show that I can do it on the training ground, and he’s confident in me, I’d be more than happy to do it Saturday.”