SAN JOSE, Calif. — A pessimist looks at the Gold Cup absences of forwards Chris Wondolowski and Ryan Johnson and concludes that the San Jose Earthquakes will struggle to score for the next few weeks.
But when there are 180 minutes worth of playing time up for grabs in every match — and you’re one of the lesser-used Quakes in line to get some of those chances — it’s a lot easier to be an optimist.
In other words, don’t expect guys such as San Jose rookie forward Ellis McLoughlin to throw up their hands in despair just because Wondolowski and Johnson are on national team duty.
“It’s an opportunity for everyone,” McLoughlin (above) said. “Chris obviously is one of our best players and is definitely an every-weekend starter, so it opens up a spot for someone who doesn’t get as much playing time. I hope one of us can take advantage of him being gone. Hopefully, we can do half the job he does and it’ll be good enough.”
Coach Frank Yallop was not in a mood to reveal how, exactly, he’ll deal with the absence of Wondolowski, who has six goals, good for a second-place tie with Thierry Henry and Charlie Davies in the MLS Golden Boot race.
Yallop did mention having “a couple options” in mind, and strongly hinted that one is McLoughlin, who scored almost immediately after coming on against New England on May 21, and tallied again three days later as a starter against Chicago in a US Open Cup qualifier.
“I think he’s proven that [he could help replace Wondolowski],” Yallop said. “[Against New England], he did a great job coming off the bench, then he has his first start. … It’s impressive, and I think he’s got a lot of potential. He’s only 20. He’s powerful, he’s young. He’s got a bright future if he just keeps learning and moving in the right direction, which I think he will.”
The other option would seem to be Scott Sealy, who was given last weekend off after tiring rapidly during an unexpectedly long 75-minute stint against the Fire. Sealy, who is still fighting groin and hamstring problems, trained with the team Tuesday and showed no ill effects.
Since Wondolowski often played underneath target man Steven Lenhart, rather than alongside, Yallop could also choose to bring back his 4-3-3 concept, with a trio of central midfielders. Khari Stephenson and Brad Ring might be joined by Sam Cronin in such a setup.
Simon Dawkins, who impressed early with a pair of goals before undergoing double fasciotomies to relieve compartment syndrome in both of his calves, trained Tuesday in 11-on-11 action for the first time since his May 5 surgery. But the Tottenham Hotspur loanee sat out the conditioning portion of practice and realistically would have a maximum of 15 or 20 minutes to give to the Quakes, assuming they choose to include him in the 18-man roster.
To replace Johnson, who had reestablished himself as a favorite on the left wing before joining the Jamaican national squad, Yallop used Ramiro Corrales at left midfield against Chicago in their match last Saturday. It’s the first time Corrales has been used in that position by the Quakes since his first go-around with the team, which ended in 2004, so that spot should also be considered in play.
Regardless of what choices Yallop makes, it’s imperative the Quakes not get stuck in neutral while waiting for Wondolowski and Johnson, who could miss up to four more MLS matches, depending on how far their respective national teams go in Gold Cup play.
“You’ve got to keep going,” Sealy said. “Those guys are going for two or three weeks. We need to maintain getting points and doing that. We don’t want to get into a hole and just wait for them to come back. That’s not what we want to do.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes