SAN JOSE, Calif. — All eyes will be on the attacking end of the San Jose Earthquakes’ formation Saturday, watching to see if forward Chris Wondolowski can tie or break Roy Lassiter’s all-time single-season MLS scoring record.
Those folks who want to get a potential Quakes playoff preview, however, should spare a few glances at the opposite end of the field.
With Jason Hernandez back from suspension and Ike Opara healthy enough to play, Quakes coach Frank Yallop should have all six of his top defensive choices at his disposal in Portland. That means the backline Yallop sends out against the Timbers could be a presaging of which combination he wants to make from Steven Beitashour, Víctor Bernárdez, Ramiro Corrales, Justin Morrow, Hernandez and Opara for use in the postseason.
“Hopefully everyone’s healthy and fit and ready to go that I want to use,” Yallop said. “Will this weekend be a dress rehearsal of what we’re going to do in the playoffs? Maybe.”
Yallop is presumably keeping the door open to alterations next week because he doesn’t to give anything away to the Quakes’ first-round playoff opponent; on that same note, San Jose have closed their practices to the media for the first time in years.
There’s also the fact that San Jose won’t know their opponent until the Vancouver Whitecaps and LA Galaxy square off in the knockout round on Nov. 1.
“I’ve got to look at matchups,” Yallop said. “That sometimes comes into it as well. Not that we change too much [from week to week], but it might change something, just looking at both teams.”
Opara played 17 minutes as a reserve in the Quakes’ 2-2 tie against LA on Sunday, his first action in three matches as he makes his way back from concussion symptoms following a heavy collision with Portland goalkeeper Joseph Bendik on Sept. 20. That means five of Yallop’s six options played, with only Hernandez sitting out, a byproduct of seeing red in Colorado on Oct. 6.
“It’s been a while since everyone’s been there and been healthy, so that consistency going into the playoffs will be good,” said Morrow (above), who then added more mystery to the puzzle. "We've all played well with each other before," he said, "no matter what combo it is.”
Going simply by minutes played, the most likely combination is Morrow at left back, Hernandez and Bernárdez in the middle and Beitashour on the right. Yet Corrales is the Quakes’ most experienced field player in terms of past MLS Cup playoff minutes, and Opara still has unmatched athleticism among the half-dozen candidates.
The wild card is Morrow, who has seen significant time centrally as well as on the left. The third-year Quake demurred when asked where he’d rather play come November.
“I don’t have a preferred setup,” Morrow said. “I just like being on the field, being a part of this team. I know we’re going to do great, no matter what.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.