SAN JOSE, Calif. – When the San Jose Earthquakes host the Montreal Impact on Saturday afternoon (4 pm ET, watch on MLS Live), center back Jason Hernandez is expected to miss his fifth consecutive match due to injury.
By the time Hernandez’s strained right calf has recovered enough to let him back on the field, the 29-year-old might not have a place in San Jose's starting XI to call his own.
In Hernandez’s absence, 24-year-old Canadian international Nana Attakora has stepped up and shone – brightly enough that Hernandez, second among current Quakes with 129 appearances for the club, might have to wait his turn even after regaining full fitness.
With Yallop feeling Víctor Bernárdez has continued his MLS Best XI-level play from last year, it seems as though one spot at center back is sewn up, barring injury or Honduran national-team duty. That means the competition for playing time will likely boil down to Attakora vs. Hernandez.
“He’s playing very well right now, so he’s in,” Yallop said of Attakora this week.
So far in three starts by Attakora, the Quakes have allowed three goals – compared to an average of 1.33 in San Jose’s other six matches. Attakora knows all he can do to keep his spot is keep putting up solid performances
“I would hope so,” Attakora said when asked if he thought he was making a pitch to keep starting. “At the end of the day, it comes down to Frank and what the coaching staff wants to do, but I felt I’ve done well. I’m just happy I got an opportunity.”
This is the Attakora that San Jose had hoped they were getting during his first go-around, via trade from Toronto FC in 2011. But that year’s model was still fighting an injury and never got a chance to show his true abilities.
Attakora’s 2013 renaissance was highlighted last weekend in San Jose’s 2-2 tie against Chivas USA when he delivered a well-weighted ball behind the hosts’ backline. Shea Salinas ran onto the pass and whipped a first-timed cross that Cordell Cato converted into his first career MLS goal – and Attakora's first league assist since 2009.
“I’m very happy with Nana’s performances,” Yallop said. “I always knew it was in him. ... He’s confident. He has the confidence to know he can handle anything. Not only off the ball defensively, but I thought he used the ball really well, too, last Saturday. And that all comes with the team moving for him, but him also being confident enough to play out of the back.”