SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Jose Earthquakes are unhappily going to open 2013 in the same way they finished 2012: bruised and battered.
When the Quakes released their first official injury report of the season Monday, the toll was a grim one. Defender Steven Beitashour (sports hernia repair), midfielder Marvin Chávez (right MCL sprain) and forwards Alan Gordon (left foot surgery) and Steven Lenhart (right knee surgery) will all miss the match, meaning four of coach Frank Yallop’s likely first-choice XI will be watching in street clothes when Real Salt Lake come to Buck Shaw Stadium on Sunday (10 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
Most of the names on the list were not surprises, although Gordon’s specific injury was a bit of a shock. The 31-year-old underwent an arthroscopic procedure in November to repair a labrum problem in his hip; the team didn’t publicly acknowledge his Jan. 20 foot surgery -- which removed a nerve that had been paining Gordon since last season -- until Monday.
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Gordon told reporters Tuesday that his hip is fine, and that he hopes to progress enough from the foot surgery to be training with the Quakes in two weeks -- although he will have to build his fitness from there. He compared the situation to last year, when he missed seven of the first 10 matches while recovering from abdominal surgery. Gordon played in 20 of the Quakes’ last 24 games and finished with a career-high 13 goals and career-high-tying seven assists.
“That ended up working out,” Gordon joked. “It’s a physical game, it’s a long season, and the more rest we can get, the better for us.”
Lenhart, who needed surgery to fix a torn meniscus, admitted that it’s tough not to want to push the issue with the regular season just around the corner.
“I certainly don’t want to rush anything, but I’d prefer to be on the field and just with the guys and playing for Frank,” said Lenhart, who estimated that he could be playing in a matter of weeks. “I’d prefer to be out there, any opportunity I have, whether it’s training or in a game. But it is a long season, and we do have to think big picture.”
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That’s a lesson San Jose learned from last season, when they arguably played their best soccer in August and September, only to find themselves too beat up come October and November to effectively compete in the playoffs. The LA Galaxy, who were forced to survive a play-in game as the West’s No. 4 seed, dispatched the Supporters’ Shield winners 3-2 on aggregate in a conference semifinal.
“I think our focus has really changed,” Gordon said. “Mine has. Last year was a different feel. We were coming off a bad season, and we wanted to make the playoffs. . . . You can’t peak too soon. We got injured at the end of last year, and look at the Galaxy. They started off slow, [did a] lot of recovering. Once they got focused, they were rolling right into the playoffs, and we met them when they were at their strongest.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.