By ADAM SERRANO
The 2010 season did not begin the way that the San Jose Earthquakes wanted. In front of a capacity crowd at Buck Shaw Stadium, the Earthquakes fell 3-0 to Real Salt Lake in a match left Frank Yallop hoping to press the reset button on the season.
The Quakes will get that chance as they head out east for tonight's match up against the Chicago Fire.
Seminal to success in Chicago will be the play of the youthful Earthquakes centerback tandem of Ike Opara and Jason Hernandez. The pair had some hiccups against RSL and should be tested early by the physical Chicago forwards. Facing the experience of Brian McBride and Collins John presents a number of challenges for a defense that appeared disjointed two weeks ago.
"It will be important for us to act as a team to use our heads rather than getting into physical battles against those guys because they're stronger and will win those challenges," said Hernandez. "It's up to the defense to play a little bit smarter with our challenges and knowing which plays to make and which not to and just maintain our concentration as a team."
In addition to the club's youthful center backs, Frank Yallop is expected to start rookie Steve Beitashour at right back on Saturday for the suspended Chris Leitch. A rookie from San Diego State University and a native of the Bay Area, Beitashour has impressed the coaching staff enough to warrant inclusion over veteran defender Bobby Burling.
The Quakes will also be looking for get on scoreboard for the first time in 2010. Vital to this will be the play of 2009 leading scorer Ryan Johnson. The Jamaican International had a number of chances against RSL, but poor finishing kept the forward off board. San Jose will need to see more from the hardworking Johnson, who scored team high 11 goals last season, if the Earthquakes are to threaten Chicago.
To complement Johnson, Frank Yallop is expected to make a number of personnel changes up front, moving Salvadorian international Arturo Alvarez up front with Ryan Johnson. The Earthquakes will look for Alvarez to help provide additional service to the hardworking Johnson so the Quakes can generate the offense that was lacking against Salt Lake.
"Adding Arturo up front will allow us to have a different look offensively than we had in the first match and should allow for us to create more offensively," said Johnson. "What will be important for us though is to start the game better in the opening ten minutes to set the tone on the road."
To bolster their attack further, the Earthquakes expect Brazilian forward Eduardo to be available on Saturday. The forward looks to make his debut after being ruled unavailable in the first match of the season due to injuries and passport issues.
The match will also mark the return of goalkeeper Jon Busch to Toyota Park. The former MLS Goalkeeper of the year was released by the Fire days prior to their first match is expected to be on the roster, but will not start. The inclusion of Busch is one that signifies the Quakes new strategy of creating competition at each position.
For a club that is still looking to find their way this season, the San Jose remains optimistic that they can recover. Central to this improvement are the assurances of veterans like Quakes Goalkeeper Joe Cannon, who remains optimistic that better days are ahead for Earthquakes.
"We're a playoff team and anything less than that and we're not fulfilling our potential."