SAN JOSE, Calif. — When the San Jose Earthquakes brought in Edmundo Zura earlier this month on loan from his Ecuadorian side, El Nacional, their plan was to evaluate the 27-year-old striker over the season’s final 10 matches and decide if he was possibly worth Designated Player money in 2012.
It took only 10 days for the Quakes to determine that was not the case.
San Jose sent Zura back to Quito on Monday evening, terminating the clubs’ loan agreement as a result of what the Quakes described as “findings in his full medical examination.”
Zura passed an abbreviated physical when he arrived in Los Angeles on Aug. 19, joining the Quakes on the eve of their road match against the Galaxy. But the Ecuadorian international labored during his 20-minute stint in San Jose’s 2-0 loss to LA, and Quakes general manager John Doyle immediately felt there was a deeper problem.
“The player we watched on video and the player that was recommended wasn’t running around the way that we had watched,” Doyle said. “[Nacional and Zura] say there’s nothing wrong, but for me, he’s not fit. Something’s bothering him. And we don’t really have the time to get a guy fit or wait for a guy.”
There was always a fitness question given Zura’s statistical record with El Nacional this season. He scored four goals and added one assist in 15 appearances, but played a total of just 399 minutes, and never logged more than 45 minutes in a single game.
When the deal was struck, the Quakes downplayed any worries about Zura’s lack of playing time. Doyle pointed out that a player out of favor with his current coach was more likely to be available on the transfer market.
As Zura tried to train last week, however, it became increasingly clear that he simply wasn’t healthy enough to provide a much-needed boost to a San Jose team mired in a 13-match winless streak.
San Jose leading scorer Chris Wondolowski, asked last Tuesday if Zura looked fit, simply grimaced and shook his head in the negative.
“For me, he wasn’t able to compete at the level that we need him to compete at, physically,” Doyle said. “That’s the key component of it all.”
The move means that the Quakes will have to search from within for help along the front line. Target forwards Steven Lenhart (family leave of absence) and Alan Gordon (Aug. 9 surgery to repair three torn muscles) remain unavailable, leaving coach Frank Yallop with some tough choices.
The Quakes paired Wondolowski and four-goal man Simon Dawkins in the attack Saturday at Toronto FC, but both men are ideally suited to play underneath a bigger forward — such as Lenhart, Gordon or even Zura. Wondolowski scored a game-tying goal in the 87th minute, shortly after MLS rookie Matt Luzunaris, San Jose’s lone available target forward, had entered the game.
San Jose can still add a forward before the Sept. 15 date to freeze rosters, but with the international transfer window closed, it would have to be via a trade within MLS or by signing a player who is out of contract at this point. With players such as Dawkins and Scott Sealy returning to health, there’s less of a need to just add a warm body and more of an impetus to find quality.
“I think there’s always time if the right thing comes up,” Doyle said. “The guys that are here are going to get more opportunities. When we brought in Zura, Scott was injured, Simon was injured. We didn’t have guys to even back those guys up. So that was an immediate need. Since then, those guys are healthy. There isn’t an immediate need. There’s a need to score more goals.”