SAN JOSE, Calif. – Last year, San Jose Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop was making lineup decisions on a week-by-week basis.
Not much has changed in that regard, but he’s enjoying this year’s experience significantly more.
Yallop has a couple of key choices to make before the Quakes host Chivas USA before a national television audience on Saturday (9 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat MLSsoccer.com): how to use forward Steven Lenhart (above), back from a one-game-suspension, and who to start in place of injured center back Jason Hernandez.
“It gives me headaches and options, but good ones,” Yallop told reporters after the Quakes’ 4-1 romp against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday. “We’re not losing every game, where I’ve got to upset people.”
Arguably, the path of least resistance would be to give Alan Gordon – coming off a two-goal performance against Colorado – the start, with a pre-planned substitution to a fresh Lenhart somewhere around the 60th minute. With Golden Boot leader Chris Wondolowski at the other forward spot, it ensures that all three of San Jose’s leading goal-scorers see action in a given match.
Too bad Yallop can’t stand that plan.
“I hate saying before the game, ‘You’re going to play an hour.’ Expect to play 90 minutes, and then we’ll figure out what goes on beyond that,” Yallop said. “The game dictates what I do. If we’re doing great and everything’s fine, then you leave it, and if you feel you want to change things up or give someone a rest, try to win the game, whatever comes into the game [you do that].”
It would be hard to see Gordon (right) stepping aside after a brace that pushed his season mark to 11 goals in just 901 minutes – giving him a league-leading 1.10 goals-per-90 mark. The Quakes have used both Gordon and Lenhart at the same time to great effect in the closing minutes of several matches, but doing that from the start of a match would require some significant formation bending.
“I’m rooting for Lenny, he’s rooting for me, and we play the same position,” Gordon said. “We’re each other’s biggest fans. That’s really, really helped us.”
Along the backline, Yallop is mulling whether to use Ramiro Corrales at left back – with Justin Morrow sliding inside next to Victor Bernardez – or Ike Opara in the center.
Both Corrales and Opara were needed against the Rapids to fill in for Hernandez and Bernardez (both on a one-game suspension), and Yallop gave each “full credit” for their work. But he seemed to give a hint when talking about their performances.
“For me, [Morrow] is comfortable in [the middle],” Yallop said. “No problems. I think [he’s] probably more comfortable inside, to be honest. With his pace and his reading of the game, he’s good in the middle. But, again, he’s good at left back as well.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.