SAN JOSE, Calif. — When Shea Salinas collapsed to the turf less than 11 minutes into Saturday’s game against the Chicago Fire, clutching his hamstring and grimacing in pain, it was a pivotal moment for the struggling San Jose Earthquakes.
Trainers rushed to his aid, but it was clear the 11-year MLS veteran defender would need to exit the game, forcing head coach Mikael Stahre to adjust the team’s formation and tactics earlier than anticipated. It was not the reason the Quakes went on to lose the game 2-1, but it was a catalyst for changes in their approach that foiled a week’s worth of preparation.
Salinas did not look pleased as he was helped off the Toyota Park field, but he had no choice. On Monday, with the Quakes back training in San Jose, Stahre confirmed the prognosis for the defender’s quick return to the team was unlikely.
“We will wait for the scans to be sure, but it’s probably a strain,” Stahre told Pro Soccer USA. “It will likely be the normal time to recover from these things. He will probably be out for a couple of games.”
The Quakes have two important home games coming up on the schedule — Saturday against the Los Angeles Football Club and Wednesday against the New England Revolution — as they try to salvage their flagging league campaign. Prior to that, the Earthquakes travel to Portland to face the Timbers in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup, accelerating the need to replace Salinas in the lineup.
“It will be important for some of the players to show the coach if they are available for Wednesday, and can they be an option for the lineup against LAFC,” Stahre said. “We have a couple of options.”
Left back has been the most glaring weakness in the lineup so far this season, which sees the Earthquakes off to a historically bad start, and the injury news is tough to take. Besides Salinas, Stahre has employed Nick Lima, the team’s regular starting right back, on the left. He’s also given MLS newcomers Chris Wehan and Joel Qwiberg a look as well. Even Florian Jungwirth, more a central defensive midfielder, has slid into the role, just as he needed to do against the Fire.
“We can still change the shape to go with three central defenders and you can play with five midfielders, but you need more wingback types,” Stahre said. “Shea Salinas and Nick Lima are those types of players, so we have a couple of options, and Joel is one of them.”
Qwiberg, who signed in the offseason from Swedish second division side IF Brommapojkarna, was forecast by some as the future Quakes starting left back, but he has yet to see much playing time with the first team. The defender started in the Earthquakes’ 1-1 tie at Philadelphia back in early April to earn his first and only MLS minutes. On May 26, he featured for USL affiliate Reno 1868 FC in a 2-1 win against San Antonio FC.
“I work really hard everyday to get closer to the first team, that’s the only thing I can do,” Qwiberg told Pro Soccer USA. “But Reno was a good experience, because at some point you need to get minutes to break into the starting eleven, especially if you haven’t played for a long time. To get some action, some real action, and feel the nerves again was a good experience.”
The Open Cup game will afford Stahre the opportunity to provide players like Qwiberg, who haven’t been regular starters in MLS play, valuable minutes ahead of the upcoming two game homestand at Avaya Stadium. The pressure of a win-or-go-home game in Portland will also be a good test of these players’ resolve, and Qwiberg is excited at the prospect of seeing the field.
“We need to win games,” Qwiberg said. “That is the first thing I want to help the team do on Wednesday. I really, really want to help the team get a win in.”
With Salinas out for at least the next few weeks, the Quakes will need every bit of enthusiasm and effort they can get, whether it comes from Qwiberg or others on the squad hungry for minutes, to find their first victory in nearly a month.