At a time when a handful of MLS rosters are scrambling to fill the gaps vacated by stars leaving for Brazil, FC Dallas find themselves as one of six teams fortunate enough to remain untouched by the international hand.
Conversely, the San Jose Earthquakes are missing both their most potent attacker, America’s Chris Wondolowski, and one of the game’s best central defenders, Honduras’ Victor Bernardez.
Despite this, the Quakes sealed their most comfortable victory of the season without both players last weekend, beating the Houston Dynamo 3-0 at Buck Shaw Stadium.
Admittedly Houston — well alright, Tally Hall — committed gaffes that gifted San Jose their first and final goals. The Quakes, though, should be proud of keeping a clean sheet despite the unavailability of their top three center backs, and with natural left-back Jordan Stewart, filling in centrally.
Stewart’s partner in Sunday’s win, Ty Harden, is making a case that he should in the discussion for an expanded role, regardless of who’s available.
In his four starts at CB this season, San Jose has kept three clean sheets and conceded only once, with the lone blemish coming from a goal of the season candidate via Seattle’s Obafemi Martins.
It’s easy to be pessimistic about this San Jose team, who wasn’t exactly excelling even with Wondo and Muma in the squad.
But Clarence Goodson’s return — a man playing with something to prove no less — should give the Quakes a more than decent pairing anchoring the squad Saturday.
It took a courageous defensive effort from San Jose in their 2-1 home win against Dallas just 20 days ago, when the Quakes somehow held on to a one goal lead despite playing with 10 men for the entirety of the second half. David Teixeira’s own goal against the run of play helped out too.
Dallas will be looking to avenge that somewhat embarrassing loss as they desperately try to regain control of a season that is quickly running off the rails.
Nobody was hotter than Dallas to start the season, when they took 13 points from their first five games and looked to have one of the league’s most valuable players in Argentine attacking midfielder Mauro Diaz.
But Diaz injured his right knee April 26 against D.C. United and Dallas is yet to recover. The Hoops have gone winless in the seven games since, dropping four spots in the Western Conference standings and seeing their 5-1-1 record turn into 5-3-6 in just over a month.
An away draw against Real Salt Lake last week is a good start towards righting the ship. Now is the time for Dallas to gain ground on Western Conference leaders Seattle and RSL who will be boasting sides with depleted talent for the next couple weeks.
With the experimental Khari Stephenson and Jean Baptiste-Pierazzi pairing likely featuring again in the San Jose midfield, Saturday’s match will go a long way into determining whether the duos success last week was more than a fluke.
Team stalwart Sam Cronin was initially paired with Pierazzi at the season’s outset, and it was assumed that the Frenchman’s arrival would make for one of the more solid midfield pairings in the league.
But the proclivity for both players to assume defensive roles often led to poor spacing, as Cronin and Pierazzi found themselves occupying similar positions that stifled build-up play going forward.
Stephenson’s ability to make plays with the ball in the final third see to make him an ideal partner for the defensive minded Pierazzi. But with both goals coming from set pieces for the Jamaican last week, the jury’s still out as to whether Stephenson has enough quality to be a long term option.
Yannick Djalo’s injury woes mean he’s never a guarantee to start, but assuming he’s healthy tomorrow, his presence instantly makes San Jose a threat to score on the counter attack, a very valuable weapon when playing away from home.
Djalo’s presence as someone who can run into space makes him exceedingly valuable as strikers Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon lack the speed to beat defenders one-on-one.
The Earthquakes face FC Dallas tomorrow at FC Dallas Stadium. Kickoff is 5:30 p.m. PDT on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 1590 KLIV and 1370 KZSF.