SAN JOSE, Calif. — With the San Jose Earthquakes’ appeal of Brandon McDonald’s red card having bitten the dust, head coach Frank Yallop knows there’s at least one starter he’ll have to replace this weekend, even though he prefers to keep a winning side — such as the one that spanked Columbus 3-0 last Saturday — intact.
Yet will McDonald’s absence knock not just one, but both Quakes center backs out of the lineup?
It’s an odd situation Yallop faces as he prepares to host the New England Revolution on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, MatchDay Live). The coach lavishly praised the performance that Jason Hernandez, McDonald’s usual partner in the middle, turned in against the Crew. And ordinarily, a coach would want Hernandez and his six-plus seasons of MLS experience to provide ballast for McDonald’s replacement.
But throughout this season, the Quakes have generally used two discrete pairs of center backs — Hernandez and McDonald on one side of practices, Bobby Burling and Ike Opara on the other. With Burling and Opara having helped throw up 90 minutes’ worth of shutout soccer in Vancouver on May 11 — the Whitecaps ended up scoring just as the match crossed into injury time — does Yallop swap out a new duo for the old, or does he break up his comfortable pairings?
“I’ve got choices, which is great,” Yallop said. “If it’s Bobby or it’s Ike — or Bobby and Ike — we’ll see. For me, it’s about having the choices to do what we need to do.”
Yallop might find it easier to bring in Burling and Opara for the Revolution match, knowing that he’ll likely change out several players as San Jose fight through a three-matches-in-eight-days stretch of the schedule. In addition to New England this Saturday, the Quakes have a home match against Chicago in US Open Cup qualifying on May 24, then travel east to visit the Fire in MLS play four days later.
The coach used that same tactic when faced with MLS contests three days apart last week, switching out his entire back line for what he said was the first time in his recollection.
“We’ve got a big game Tuesday that [we] want to win at home in the Open Cup,” Yallop said. “And then we have a tough trip straight away to Chicago to win a game. There’ll be different guys in.”
Hernandez acknowledged that he and McDonald — who lobbied to remain a tandem rather than having McDonald used as a holding midfielder — had developed strong chemistry, but said that shouldn’t prevent some other pairing from being successful.
“We’re all professionals and we’re all good players,” Hernandez told MLSsoccer.com. “And I think a sign of a good player is being able to be put in a different position and different situations on the field and being able to make it work. We’ve all come along in the sense that we have a good understanding of what the game calls for. Hopefully whoever’s in the center back position this weekend will be ready to do the job.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes