Marvell Wynne's cameo at center back pays off for San Jose Earthquakes, leaves veteran "mentally exhausted"

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Marvell Wynne looked fresh and energized after the San Jose Earthquakes’ 1-0 win against Sporting Kansas City on Friday night.

It was an act.

“I’m mentally exhausted,” Wynne told reporters after tucking inside from his usual right-back role to serve in the middle of San Jose’s defense for the first time all season. “Physically, there’s not as much running, but mentally, you’re always aware. You’re always trying to prevent them from breaking.”

Wynne helped the Quakes hold firm against Dom Dwyer, Krisztián Németh and the rest of SKC’s offense, posting San Jose's 12th shutout of the season in a match where anything less than three points would have effectively finished the club’s playoff hopes.

“Yeah, it’s his first time all year at center back [this season], but I think he’s played over 250 games and he’s probably played about 100 at center back,” Quakes goalkeeper David Bingham said. “He’s no stranger to that position, and he showed it tonight. He played very well for us. We’ve got a great group of guys in this locker room, and when someone’s been asked to step out of their position and do something for the team, they’ve done it.”

Without suspended stalwart Víctor Bernárdez, the Quakes needed to find another center back to pair with Clarence Goodson. In recent months, Fatai Alashe has been San Jose’s de facto third center back, but he ordinarily starts alongside Anibal Godoy as a pair of defensive-minded midfielders.

So coach Dominic Kinnear went another way, sliding Wynne over and putting Cordell Cato in at right back. In dealing with injuries and suspensions during the club’s final, frantic playoff push, Kinnear has tried to minimize the number of changes to his shape and tactics, making like-for like-substitutions wherever possible.

In this instance, even though there was a domino effect of moving Wynne from right back, where he had made 30 starts this year, Kinnear felt it would be less jarring than switching Alashe to the backline (and needing to find another midfielder) or giving second-year man JJ Koval his first start at center back this season.

“We, as a coaching staff, wanted to try to put what we felt was our best 11 on the field,” Kinnear said. “It really just moved one guy, and that was Marvell. Cordell’s played right back before. We didn’t want to make too many changes to that, and I just knew Marvell would be ready for the game. … I didn’t really lose a lot of sleep over it. I was very confident in the decision. Luckily for me, Marvell made the decision very good.”

Wynne credited Goodson’s communication with keeping him reined in, even as he instinctively pulled forward to join the Quakes’ attack. The pair helped fend off Kansas City’s trio of double-digit goal-scorers -- Dwyer, Németh and Benny Feilhaber -- to the point where Dwyer seemed to vent some frustration in the 82nd minute, delivering an ugly, cleanout tackle from directly behind Wynne, earning a yellow card for his trouble.

Sporting were limited to only three shots on target for the evening, with Bingham stopping them all.

“If you’re in the middle, you feel every shot, every big save, every opportunity they get could have been prevented by you,” Wynne said. “Clarence in the back was amazing at keeping me in tune with his line and my positioning. He actually made it much, much easier to adapt. … Without him, who knows? Right now, I could just be passed out.”

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