SAN JOSE, Calif. — On one hand are the San Jose Earthquakes’ lingering, fading playoff hopes.
On the other lies the possibility of giving the young kids on the roster some experience in hopes it will pay off with better results in 2012.
Second-year defender Justin Morrow is hoping to clasp those hands together over the Quakes’ final eight games.
Morrow was pressed into duty at left back Aug. 20 against the LA Galaxy only because Ramiro Corrales, the previous occupant, had to step in at center midfield in the absence of Brad Ring (injury) and Sam Cronin (red-card suspension).
But the 23-year-old played well enough to earn another start the following week against Toronto, making it the first time Morrow has had back-to-back starts since being selected in the second round of the 2010 SuperDraft. And the former Notre Dame standout acquitted himself well enough to earn high praise from coach Frank Yallop.
“He’s not made mistakes, he’s got himself forward,” Yallop said. “I think with Justin being a young player, I wouldn’t say it’s nerves, it was more maybe feeling he didn’t belong last year when he played a little bit. Now, I think he really feels he belongs, and he’s played really well. I’m very happy with Justin right now. Hopefully it just continues and he can be a good player for us from now on in.”
With Yallop pronouncing himself pleased with the Quakes’ buildup out of a pairing of Corrales and Rafael Baca in the center of the pitch, it’s likely that Morrow will start again Saturday against Chicago — especially since Bobby Convey, the other logical left-back option, is out due to yellow-card accumulation.
Having played primarily as a midfielder at Notre Dame, Morrow’s defensive lapses in practice due to lack of experience were previously a large impediment to getting on the field in game situations. Over the course of 18 months as a pro, however, Morrow has improved that part of his game significantly.
“I’m confident in myself and I felt very, very good this year,” said Morrow, who only recorded 59 minutes of playing time in MLS contests as a rookie. “I think I’ve played well and I knew my time would come. I just want to come in and contribute to the team, help us get a win and turn this thing around, get us into the playoffs.”
As the fastest option Yallop has at left back, Morrow provides a different look than Convey or Corrales, with a greater ability to attack the opponent’s right back off the dribble.
“It’s just a different look,” Morrow said. “Our flankers usually like to cross the ball, and I think I can get at people a little bit, get around them and then get the cross in.”
Unless the Quakes begin a miraculous sprint to the finish by breaking their 13-match winless streak against the Fire, it’s likely that more young players will see time in the final weeks. Morrow thinks he and the players he broke in with, such as Ike Opara, Brad Ring and Steven Beitashour, “can have a good influence on this team in years to come.”
“We’re a strong group,” Morrow said, “and I think we’ve all had times where we’ve played well this year and I think we can really make an impact.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.