SAN JOSE, Calif. — As the San Jose Earthquakes get ready for this weekend’s game against the Chicago Fire and a two-week stretch that will see them play four games in 12 days, the team received some mixed news when it comes to player availability.
Earlier Wednesday, the Football Federation of Panama announced its 23-man roster for the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia, and both midfielder Anibal Godoy and defender Harold Cummings made the cut. The Quakes’ Panamaniacs will miss the entire month of June while on international duty, and head coach Mikael Stahre will have to fill the void of two regular starters in his lineup.
But the absence of Godoy and Cummings will be mitigated by the return to health of midfielder Jahmir Hyka and defender Yeferson Quintana. Hyka, who suffered an ankle injury in the Earthquakes’ 3-1 win at Minnesota United earlier this month, has been training with the team all week and is prepared for this weekend’s road trip to Chicago.
“Yeah, Jahmir is ready,” Stahre told Pro Soccer USA. “He is available for selection this week.”
The Albanian midfielder has played sparingly this season, logging only 146 minutes in four appearances, two of them starts. But the winger has been an important contributor during his time on the field, scoring the game-tying goal against the Houston Dynamo April 14 to complete a face-saving Quakes’ comeback at Avaya Stadium. He flashed a big smile as he left the training field this week and shared the news that he was back to full health.
With Godoy away on international duty, Stahre has a decision to make as to who will play in the team’s central midfield. That decision could impact whether Hyka sees the field this weekend and beyond, as the Albanian is more suited to play on the wings.
“We have guys that are good and ready to play,” Stahre said. “So I think, in the midfield position, we have Fatai [Alashe], we have Jackson [Yueill] and we have Florian [Jungwirth] all ready to go.”
Stahre could elect to go with Jungwirth — who has served as the Quakes’ captain when Chris Wondolowski is not on the field — as a defensive midfielder and bring in Alashe or Yueill as his partner, or go with a more attack-minded option. If the rookie MLS coach chooses the latter strategy, that could open the door for Hyka to play on a midfield line with Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili and Magnus Eriksson.
Along the back line, the return to availability of Quintana will be a big boost at centerback. The Uruguayan, on loan this season from Peñarol, started the first seven games of the season for San Jose. He was injured very early in the Quakes’ 2-1 loss at the Columbus Crew back on April 28, but he has rehabbed intently and is fully fit and available for selection against the Fire.
“We have many options in the back,” Stahre said, “and now we have Quintana back from injury. We will make a decision on the lineup for Chicago.”
Quintana, 22, would be a logical choice to replace Cummings, but Stahre did not want to confirm the replacement for the World Cup bound Panamanian. Stahre also highlighted Francois Affolter as a replacement, and that the Swiss defender would be a good complement to Jimmy Ockford in the Earthquakes back four. Most of all, the Quakes’ coach was pleased to have healthy bodies to choose from instead of having his decision determined by lack of player availability.
The Earthquakes defense, as a whole, has looked much improved in the past week. Fewer mistakes have led to fewer scoring opportunities for opponents. Against the LA Galaxy Friday, a wonder-strike from Romain Alessandrini made the difference in a 1-0 loss, an encouraging development for a team that too often has gifted goals this season. Right back Nick Lima, who has played every minute of every game in 2018, is pleased with the improvement, and hopes that whoever gets the assignment at centerback can keep up the line’s momentum.
“I expect he can come in, be similar, because we don’t need to try to do something completely different with someone new in the back line,” Lima told Pro Soccer USA. “It is working better as a group, and it will just be some small little adjustments. Hopefully we will be just as good, if not better.”
In addition to the return of Hyka and Quintana to the squad, midfielder Eric Calvillo, who is fully recovered from a knee injury, will also be available for selection moving forward. The former New York Cosmos man has yet to make his Earthquakes’ debut, but that could change next Wednesday when San Jose travels to Portland to face the Timbers in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup.