SAN JOSE, Calif. — No MLS side has crafted a stingier defense this season than Real Salt Lake. So the eve of a trip into Rio Tinto Stadium is probably the worst possible time to be figuring out how to replace three of your top potential strikers.
Nevertheless, that’s where the San Jose Earthquakes found themselves Friday in preparation for Saturday’s showdown (10 pm ET, watch LIVE online). With Simon Dawkins and Alan Gordon being held out due to injury and Steven Lenhart away on personal leave, the Quakes’ offense is going to be working on something less than full capacity against Real Salt Lake.
It looks as though Chris Wondolowski, moving back from the wings to a forward spot, will be paired with Scott Sealy, who would be making his first start since May 11.
“I think he’s done well the last two games he’s come on,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop said of Sealy, who has battled leg problems much of the year. “[Against] West Brom, I thought he was sharp, without getting a goal. He’s a good player. It’s just about getting him [healthy and] on the field, and he’ll be fine. Hopefully he’ll have a really good game for us and score the winner.”
MLS rookie Ellis McLoughlin, who has been used primarily as a winger since joining the Quakes this year, is the only other forward option scheduled to make the trip to Utah.
The plus side to the Quakes’ situation — if there is one — might be that it brings Wondolowski into a more central location. The 2010 Golden Boot winner had been playing outside of late to make room for Dawkins to play underneath target man Lenhart.
Against RSL, Wondolowski should have free reign to roam wherever he wants in search of some open space. He was able to dominate a makeshift Vancouver back line to score both San Jose goals Wednesday in a 2-2 tie with the Whitecaps.
His second goal came after he moved to a forward role in place of Dawkins, who came off in the 42nd minute as a precautionary measure after laboring with a tight right hamstring. Minutes later, Wondolowski almost had a third goal to complete his hat trick, but it ricocheted off the crossbar instead.
“Obviously, I like playing up there, [but] I really don’t mind playing out wide,” Wondolowski said. “I’d rather play out wide and have a great player in Simon on the field than not having him and playing forward. Hopefully, he’ll be ready soon.”
Yallop said that he expects Dawkins to be available next weekend, as well as Lenhart and probably Gordon, too. With only one more midweek game remaining — Sept. 21 in Portland — the Quakes are finally seeing the back of the busiest portion of their schedule.
There will be at least one more move for Yallop to make Saturday, as captain Ramiro Corrales serves a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation. And Yallop hinted other changes might come to help “freshen up” a lineup that has taken its share of bumps and bruises contesting six matches over the space of 19 days.
What those moves might be remains to be seen.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes