SAN JOSE, Calif. – If the San Jose Earthquakes are to add to their 26-goal total – a mark that’s tied for MLS’ best – against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday (4:30 pm ET, NBC Sports Network; LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com), it will have to be without the benefit of either of Frank Yallop’s first-choice strikers.
With Chris Wondolowski earning a spot on Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man US national team travel roster and Steven Lenhart knocked out due to yellow-card accumulation, the Quakes (8-2-3) will face Sporting KC (7-3-1) without their top two goalscorers. Wondolowski has a league-leading 11, and Lenhart five more, leaving the Quakes with some prolific boots to fill.
NBCSN Preview: Sporting KC vs. San Jose
“It’s difficult, because Wondo’s always a competitive guy, a guy that wants to win,” San Jose midfielder Rafael Baca told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “Lenny’s a guy that’s a pain for defenders to play against. But I think [Alan] Gordon has been doing an excellent job, and the players on the bench are excellent players, so I think that anyone that comes on the field will do his best to provide the team a win.”
The most likely candidate to take one slot is Gordon, who sits third on San Jose’s scoring chart with four goals – including one in each of the Quakes’ last three matches. After an off-season in which Gordon endured multiple surgeries, Yallop proclaimed Friday after training that, “Alan’s healthy and fit. We’ll see, minutes-wise, what he can get through, but he’s ready to go, obviously.”
Yallop said Gordon “deserves to start,” but worries how much the 30-year-old will be able to give him. Gordon has played just 184 minutes this season, and his 45-minute stint against the LA Galaxy on Wednesday was his longest of the year.
“Yeah, why not?” Gordon said when asked if he’s physically ready to start. “We don’t have any other options. It is going to be tough. The weather’s going to be hot there. It’s going to be humid. So physically, it’s going to be tough. But I am a tough player, so I think I can get through it.”
Assuming Gordon is in the lineup, the question becomes who plays off him? It’s one without an obvious answer.
MLS newcomer Sercan Güvenisik got his first start as a Quake against the Galaxy, but never looked well-integrated into the attack and was pulled at the half in favor of Gordon. Yallop has long maintained Simon Dawkins’ best position is as a second striker, but Dawkins has been manning the left wing in the absence of Shea Salinas, out since April 14 with a broken left clavicle. And Khari Stephenson played up top for the Quakes down the stretch last year.
Yallop absolved Güvenisik to some extent for his nondescript performance in Los Angeles, chalking it up to a bad first half all around.
“As a coach, I had to change personnel, and [Güvenisik] was the one who got left out in that,” Yallop said. “In another game, I think he’ll play OK. ... It’s not just one performance. It’s not 45 minutes of soccer. We see him out here every day. You watch him around the goal, he’s finishing, he’s sharp with his runs. Did he have a chance to really shine [against LA]? No.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.