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11/23 FINAL
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11/30 9:20pm
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Eastern Conference Championship

Quakes midfield pair easing in

Although Frank Yallop has long since departed from the scene, the San Jose Earthquakes still boast a bit of an English flavor.

One of the trends in English soccer has seen teams play their best attacking players in wide midfield positions while the ball-winners man the spots in the center. And while it may be a bit premature to mention outside midfielders Brad Davis and Brian Mullan in the same breath as such notable attackers like Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Pires, central midfielders Ricardo Clark and Danny O'Rourke are being asked to do much of the holding work in midfield for the Earthquakes while their counterparts on the outside do most of the attacking.

"Ricardo and Danny are trying to find their way into the team and we're trying to get them on the ball more," said San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear. "As long as Brad and Brian Mullan are having success wide and Wade (Barrett) can get around the outside, those two can sit and win balls and win games for us."

For Clark, a 22-year-old third-year pro who spent his first two seasons in the league playing in more of a strict defensive role for the MetroStars behind attack-minded central midfielder Amado Guevara, it's been a bit of an adjustment.

"With the MetroStars I had more of a holding midfield role, whereas with this team, both of the midfielders do all of the work, both offensively and defensively," said Clark. "I go a little more forward than Danny, but both of us have the responsibility of covering the whole space in midfield."

In the Earthquakes' season-opening 2-2 draw against New England last Saturday, Clark and O'Rourke covered lots of ground, often dismantling the Revs attack before it had a chance to develop. Especially in the first half, when New England was put on the back foot by the offensive-minded Davis and Mullan.

"We're not just sitting back," said Clark, "but we're definitely letting Brad and Mullan get forward."

O'Rourke, a 21-year-old rookie from Indiana University, went the full 90 minutes in his MLS debut, drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff.

"People knock our young guys in the middle, but Shalrie Joseph's 23 and Clint Dempsey's 20 and nobody is saying anything about them," said Kinnear, referring to the Revolution's young central midfield duo. "Spartan Stadium is a tough place to play for your first game in MLS, but Danny did very well. (O'Rourke and Clark) cover a lot of ground. Once they get a feel for it, they'll do very well."

Califf on the scene: Center back Danny Califf, acquired on March 23 in a trade with the Los Angeles Galaxy, appeared in his first training session with the Earthquakes on Thursday. Califf, who has been sidelined with a right knee sprain, is not expected back in the lineup until at least April 23.

With Eddie Robinson serving a one-match red-card suspension for a hard tackle on New England midfielder Shalrie Joseph, second-year pro Ryan Cochrane gets the call to start alongside veteran Troy Dayak in central defense this Saturday against Club Deportivo Chivas USA.

Forward shuffle: The Earthquakes are blessed with four gifted strikers, which presents a challenge for Kinnear. Brian Ching and Ronald Cerritos will continue to start as long as they are productive, but Kinnear knows he can turn to experienced and productive forwards Alejandro Moreno and Dwayne DeRosario when the time comes.

"Brian and Ronald both scored (against New England) and they both played well," said Kinnear. "Guys are in a situation where once they get a chance, they've got to take advantage of it. Alejandro Moreno had a great preseason and of course Dwayne from last year -- it's difficult, but we'll see."

Danny Kadah is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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