Ike Opara (SJ-COL)
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Opara ready to step into suspension-riddled SJ defense

SAN JOSE, Calif. – If there’s one positive in the San Jose Earthquakes’ backline shuffle, it’s that coach Frank Yallop doesn’t have to choose between bringing back either Ramiro Corrales or Ike Opara to his starting XI.

With Jason Hernandez seeing red last weekend against Montreal and Victor Bernardez handed a one-game suspension by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for actions against the Impact, Yallop is expected to use both Corrales and Opara against Colorado on Saturday.

Corrales should come in at left back, with Justin Morrow sliding into the middle to partner Opara. Steven Beitashour remains on the right side, giving the Quakes three All-Stars in their defensive quartet – but leaving questions of how well they can mesh on the fly.

The Quakes have used the same backline – Morrow, Bernardez, Hernandez and Beitashour – for 11 of their last 12 matches (the exception coming when Beitashour was suspended). And the fact that Bernardez’s suspension wasn’t handed down until after San Jose finished their training Tuesday didn’t help matters.

“We’ve got good players,” Yallop said. “That’s the thing for me. Obviously, the continuity of playing together is what it’s all about when you’re playing in a back four. No, they haven’t played and worked together all week, but are they familiar with the way we play? Yes.”

The start for Opara would be his first in MLS play for more than three months. Outside of US Open Cup and Reserve League action, the third-year Generation adidas player has clocked only 25 minutes of regular-season time since June.

For his part, Opara feels he’s ready to step out of the considerable shadow cast by Bernardez and Hernandez.

“I’ve had a good last month of training, had a good couple of reserve games and a couple of appearances with the first team,” Opara said. “I feel that I’ve done well with the opportunities given and I’m excited if I get the opportunity to go 90 [minutes] this weekend.”

The absence of Bernardez’s forceful nature in the Quakes’ box could be keenly felt if Colorado forward Conor Casey is healthy enough to see the field at Buck Shaw Stadium. Casey has three goals in five career appearances against San Jose, but has missed three of the Rapids’ last five matches with ailments.

That said, Morrow warned fans – and the Rapids – not to sleep on Opara’s skills.

“I think people forget how good Ike is in the air,” Morrow said. “He’s a beast, too. Obviously, Victor’s played amazing this year, but Ike will be just as good.”

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com.

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