SAN JOSE, Calif. – Luckily for the San Jose Earthquakes, Marc Pelosi can laugh about the fresh scar on his right shin.
Three weeks ago, when the midfielder suffered a hard challenge while playing for the US Under-23 squad at the tail end of an Olympic qualifying game against Cuba, it was hard to be so sanguine. Pelosi, 21, had been struck full force in almost the same spot where he was injured in 2013 – a collision that left him with a tibia-fibula fracture in his right leg, costing him more than a year of recovery time and ultimately his spot in the program of English giants Liverpool.
Watching Pelosi get stretchered off the pitch at Sporting Park in Kansas City with his leg bleeding, it was hard not to think the worst.
“He hit me so hard, it broke the shin guard and cracked my skin,” Pelosi told reporters this week. “I got six stitches. It was tingling, hurting. When I broke it, it probably hit me just as hard, but it missed the shin guard. This time, he hit me right on the shin guard. So, I guess shin guards do do something.”
Did you save the pieces of it?
“I still have the shin guard, yeah,” Pelosi said. “There’s just a big crack in the middle. That was a medium. I think I’m going to large shin guards now, just for that extra protection.”
The Quakes are undoubtedly in favor of that. With veteran midfielder Anibal Godoy suspended for yellow-card accumulation, Pelosi is one of the leading options to step into the San Jose lineup as the Quakes look for a road result against Western Conference champions – and potential Supporters’ Shield winners – FC Dallas on #DecisionDay (7 pm ET, ESPN3/MLS LIVE).
“Marc sliding in there seems to be the obvious choice,” said Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear, while noting there were still five days until game day. “Another choice would be sliding Matias [Perez Garcia] in there. Another choice would be sliding JJ [Koval] in there. So those are the three things we would be looking at. Nothing too radical.”
Where Pelosi and Koval would be more like-for-like changes who could partner Fatai Alashe in a 4-2-3-1 look, fitting in Perez Garcia – who has been starting on the right wing of late – would mean more substantial tactical changes on the eve of a nearly must-win match. A victory is not technically a necessity for the Quakes to qualify for the 2015 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs – a tie might still get San Jose through – but it would greatly widen the playoff possibilities for San Jose (13-12-8), who could wind up anywhere from fourth to seventh when Sunday finally shakes out.
Pelosi is no stranger to must-win situations, however. He missed the US’ loss to Honduras in the semifinals of the Olympic qualifying tournament, but returned to score the opening goal in the Americans’ 2-0 win against Canada – an outcome that secured third place for the US, keeping their hopes alive for the 2016 Rio games in the form of a home-and-home next year against Colombia.
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“Obviously, the more times you do it, the more comfortable you are, but in those games, it’s hard to become comfortable,” Pelosi said. “If you make one little mistake, that could ruin the whole game.”
Pelosi and Alashe are often paired together in two-man drills, and they have played together multiple times this year with the American U-23s, so there is a comfort level there. But Godoy’s experience will need to be replaced by someone, a fact that Pelosi acknowledges.
“He’s played in a lot more games than us and probably knows how to manage games a little better,” Pelosi said of Godoy. “He dictates the tempo a little bit. We do it as well, but he’s usually the leader in there. I think it’ll be a little easier to communicate with Fatai, but yeah, he will be missed.”