SAN JOSE, Calif. – With another critical Western Conference playoff showdown looming, San Jose Earthquakes coach Dominic Kinnear doesn’t have the luxury of bringing back a winning XI against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.
Kinnear and the Quakes have to change at least three starters from last week’s winning group against Real Salt Lake against Vancouver on Saturday night (10:30 pm ET; TSN, RDS2 in Canada, MLS LIVE in the US). Midfielders Fatai Alashe and Marc Pelosi joined the U.S. Under-23 squad for Olympic qualifiers this week, while playmaker Matias Perez Garcia must serve a one-game ban for taking off his shirt – thus earning a second yellow – after scoring the only goal against RSL.
The most obvious substitutions involve simply slotting new players into the roles formerly held by the missing trio; Clarence Goodson is back from suspension at center back, where Alashe had been deputizing, JJ Koval can play as a defensive midfielder in place of Pelosi and Cordell Cato is a natural right winger, albeit with a different style than Perez Garcia brings to the position.
“You kind of want to not make too many changes,” Kinnear told reporters this week. “You hope to keep the team shape and the team attitude the same, and just say, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re doing here.’ To move guys around, it’s a possibility, but you kind of want to keep guys where they are.”
Kinnear said he’s toying with other ideas, potentially including more extensive tactical shifts. Presumably, that could mean a sighting of fan favorite Tommy Thompson or a shift back to the 4-1-4-1 formation that San Jose used during the season’s opening months.
“I’m excited,” Thompson said. “I’ve been working for a spot this whole year. To have an opportunity is a blessing and I’m ready for anything that comes my way.”
The biggest question mark might be in the middle. Koval last started on May 30 and has clocked a grand total of 86 minutes in league play since then. That said, it’s hard to see how Thompson or any other of the available Quakes outside of Koval fit comfortably in the double pivot that San Jose turned to following the addition of Anibal Godoy.
But as Kinnear pointed out, the best work of Alashe and Pelosi have taken place alongside Godoy. And the hope at Avaya Stadium is that the Panamanian international’s calmness and prowess can carry over to whoever steps in against the Whitecaps.
“The one constant has been Godoy in there, being a partner,” Kinnear said. “I think it makes their job a little bit easier. It’s not like our whole midfield is gone, which is a positive. No matter who that player is, the expectations can’t be different. You have to let that player know that this is what’s expected. I think they understand that there has to be a certain amount of bite, a certain amount of ground to be covered. Physically, you have to be on top of your game.
“Is it difficult? The player has to step in and say, this isn’t a difficult decision for the coach at all. This is the reason why he’s playing me, and I’m going to give him exactly what he wants.”
That’s exactly what Thompson is aiming for. The U-20 World Cup veteran has been limited to 47 total minutes since his last start, on July 17.
“I learn from everybody on this team, whether it’s Godoy, Wondo, Quincy or even Marc Pelosi,” Thompson said. “They all have great aspects of their games, and I think they’ve basically showed what to do in those situations in the past couple of games. I’ve been watching and paying attention. I’m hoping to emulate that. . . . Whether it’s Godoy’s calmness on the ball, Wondo’s finishing or Quincy’s strength. You see what works, and you want to replicate that. I’m hoping to do just that whenever I get the opportunity.”