SAN JOSE, Calif. – It seems every silver lining has a cloud.
The 2012 San Jose Earthquakes might have the most talented roster head coach Frank Yallop has had since the club re-entered MLS in 2008. But that means that every decision that he makes – such as inserting Khari Stephenson into the center of his midfield for last week’s match against Houston, a choice which created the domino effect of pushing Rafael Baca to the left wing, moving Shea Salinas to right wing and putting Marvin Chávez on the bench – will lead to increased scrutiny.
The Quakes, who were coming off a season-opening victory against New England, dropped a 1-0 decision to the Dynamo. Chávez came on at halftime for an ineffective Baca – who looked far sharper in a central role against the Revolution – and San Jose’s attack perked up, but it was too late to change the outcome.
Yallop bristled a bit this week at the notion that using the 6-foot-1 Stephenson over the 5-foot-5 Chávez – a move the coach made with an aim toward negating Houston’s height advantage on set pieces – meant San Jose were playing into the Dynamo’s hands.
“It wasn’t the reason we won or lost the game, for sure,” Yallop said. “I thought Khari had a chance to score two goals, [from] one header and one shot, did a fine job on set plays – which is not playing into anyone’s hands, it’s making sure we don’t get scored on, which we didn’t [from the run of play]. … We created eight chances to score, so another day we win 5-1 and it’s the best move I’ve ever made.”
San Jose went into the offseason with an explicit and urgent goal of diversifying their team after being stuck in one dimension for much of last season due to injury and absences. That flexibility is allowing Yallop to consider different lineups as they look to their first road game of the season, at Toronto FC on Saturday afternoon (1 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS Live in US).
Highly regarded midfielders Tressor Moreno and Simon Dawkins did not start against Houston. In addition to the 18 players from the game-day roster against the Dynamo, a team spokesman said Friday that San Jose had also brought holding midfielder Brad Ring and rookie winger Sam Garza to Toronto.
It’s a blessing of options for Yallop. Now he needs to make sure it doesn’t turn into a curse of second-guessing.
“We may change it again for this game coming up, because we feel that certain ways they play could play into our hands if we play certain players,” Yallop said. “I like it. It’s not chopping and changing the lineup, it’s using your squad and making the right decisions.
"We’ve got some good players that want to play and are excited to play. So we’ll see what we do this weekend, but I’m excited about going into this game with a good game plan and trying to win it.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.