Of all the adjustments San Jose Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop made to his lineup Saturday against Philadelphia – and with five players getting their first start in 2011, there were myriad moves – none was as radical as his swap at left back.
Out went Ramiro Corrales, captain of the side for the last two seasons and a man who’s logged more than 20,000 MLS minutes, and in came Justin Morrow, a second-year player with all of three reserve appearances to his credit.
It was a risky move born of a fervent desire to avoid a three-match losing streak. And even though the Quakes have indeed lost three straight after a 1-0 road defeat against Philadelphia, Morrow acquitted himself ably for a defense that looked significantly buoyed in allowing only a harshly judged penalty to the Union.
“Obviously the result is disappointing, but it felt good to play,” Morrow told MLSsoccer.com. “At first I was a little nervous – obviously Philly’s got a good fan base – but my teammates rallied behind me and I felt comfortable in there. Once the game started going, I just tried to do my best.”
That Morrow was capable of holding his own against an offensive-minded Union XI was good news for the 23-year-old Ohio native. He came out of Notre Dame known more as a midfielder than defender, and the Quakes have been attempting to bring up him to speed as a left back ever since selecting him 28th overall in the second round of the 2010 SuperDraft.
“I thought he played well,” veteran Bobby Burling said of Morrow. “When he plays with confidence is when he’s at his best. He did a good job on [Philadelphia attacker Sebastien] Le Toux throughout the game. He can go pace for pace with anybody. He hung right in there with Le Toux, so I thought it was a good performance for him.”
Morrow’s speed and quickness have never been an issue, but his lack of experience on the back line has often led to glaring mistakes in practice.
Those errors were held to a minimum on Saturday. Morrow’s most notable play, in fact, was a sliding interception on a pass from Danny Mwanga that would have given Le Toux free run at the goal if not for Morrow’s timely intervention.
“Any time you’ve got a guy like Mwanga running at your back four, you just want to kind of push things wide and cover the middle,” Morrow said. “That was my first instinct. He put the ball down the middle and I was lucky enough to be there to stop it.”
One thing missing from Morrow’s game was the sight of him flying down the sideline with a wide run that stretches the opposing defense. That is a specialty of Morrow’s in practice, but he was more restrained Saturday, in part because of the fatigue of playing all 90 minutes for the first time ever in regular-season MLS action.
“I felt like I defended well. I just wanted to make a bigger impact going forward,” Morrow said. “Towards the end of the game, after they scored their goal [in the 76th minute], I thought I was a little tired and could have given us a little more going forward.”
Whether Morrow gets another chance when San Jose resume MLS play in Vancouver on May 11 is yet to be seen. After Tuesday’s US Open Cup qualifier, there will be a long week of battling ahead in practice, with Corrales undoubtedly looking to reclaim his spot from the youngster.
“I think it was a good start for myself as far as starting goes,” Morrow said, “but obviously it can get better.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes