SAN JOSE, Calif. – Marco Ureña’s brace helped knock the United States out of the 2018 World Cup. His 93rd-minute goal Sunday as a late substitute against Minnesota United saved the San Jose Earthquakes’ playoff hopes.
Yet it’s possible that the Costa Rican international won’t crack the Quakes’ starting lineup when they take the field Wednesday night for their Knockout Round matchup against the Vancouver Whitecaps (10:30 pm ET | UniMás w/ SAP, free stream on MLS LIVE; TSN, TVAS2)
While Quakes coach Chris Leitch allowed that “you could see a couple of new guys” on the pitch for San Jose at BC Place, the team has used the same XI – one without Ureña – for the last three matches. That’s tied for the longest stretch of stability this season, and the results that group has claimed – a road draw and two home victories – ended the Quakes’ five-year run of futility in terms of qualifying for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
“We’ve got guys that I know want to play that aren’t in the lineup right now,” Leitch told MLSsoccer.com after training Tuesday. “A lot of guys. That’s a good problem to have. It pushes those guys that do get the call, that are playing, because they know they’ve got MLS-caliber starting players right there who could be playing.”
Ureña, nicknamed El Tiburon Tico ("the Costa Rican Shark"), has been the odd man out of late, with Danny Hoesen starting as a No. 9, Chris Wondolowski roaming underneath him and Jahmir Hyka and Vako Qazaishvili providing menace on the flanks. Hoesen has played on the wing at points this season – which could make room for Ureña – but never looked as comfortable there as he did Sunday, when he burst through Minnesota’s center-back pairing and coolly slotted home in a 1v1 situation against Loons goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
Ureña, brought on in the 88th minute, responded with his own strike, sweeping home a pass from Wondolowski to put San Jose back in the playoffs – and in the process making Leitch’s job that much harder.
“Marcos can do that,” Leitch said. “So can Danny and so can Wondo. It just so happened that all three showcased they can do that last game.”
A hint might have been dropped regarding Hoesen’s status when Leitch played up the Dutchman’s ability to cash in on opportunities.
“They’re a disciplined team,” Leitch said of Vancouver. “You know you’re not going to get 20 chances against them in a game. So you’ve got to be clinical with the chances that you do get – and I’ll say this about Danny: He’s one of the more clinical of the group. If he has opportunity to finish, he finishes.”
Ureña admitted Sunday that it’s “frustrating” to watch from the sidelines while the Quakes’ season swings in the balance.
“You can’t do anything from the bench,” Ureña told reporters. “Nothing. I have been, for the last three games, on the bench. It’s really tough for me, but I know how I can help a team.”
Despite those feelings, Ureña impresses teammates with his ability to remain engaged as a sub.
“Marco’s a great player,” veteran winger Shea Salinas said Tuesday. “It was obvious in World Cup qualifying when he scored two goals against the U.S. and put them out. He scores big goals, works really hard off the ball and makes great runs. The fact that he’s not in our lineup has nothing to do with how good of a player he is. It more has to do with Danny [being] in form as well.
“But what I like most is Marco’s mentality. It’s not ever fun to be on the bench, especially when you think you should be playing. To come on and score a goal like that is huge. The fact that he stayed mentally into it is big for us and big for the team.”