There were R-words being bandied about the hotel lobby yesterday as the new San Jose Earthquakes prepared to open their second life against their old rivals from Los Angeles, but rarely was heard a reference to rivalry. Or revenge.
A few current Quakes are returnees from those days: Coach Frank Yallop, general manager John Doyle, midfielder Ramiro Corrales, goalkeeper Joe Cannon. Yallop, cut loose by the Galaxy for a draft pick after a disastrous 2007 season, sounded the general tone in his own R-terms: "You never know until you get out there, but I think we're ready.
"I haven't thought about, 'Oh, I'm so desperate to do well.' I'm not trying to prove anybody wrong. I've moved on."
For most of the players, the R-word is redemption. They were exposed in the expansion draft or traded away, usually for allocation money, and since Yallop says the Quakes still have a lot of it, their former teams didn't think all that much of them.
"I've discussed this with John a lot," said Yallop. "Any time in this league you get quality traded to you, you've really got to look at it closely. You don't often get that with a player like Ronnie O'Brien for no player. That's important. We haven't lost anybody."
Of course, the Quakes didn't have a lot to lose, starting out with 10 players picked in the expansion draft, one of which - Brian Carroll - was traded to Columbus for Kei Kamara.
The list is well-stocked with proven or at least serviceable MLS players: Nick Garcia, James Riley, Ned Grabavoy, Ryan Cochrane, Ivan Guerrero, Jason Hernandez, Cannon, Corrales, O'Brien. Garcia went to Kansas City in exchange for the No. 1 SuperDraft pick, Cannon and O'Brien and Corrales cost San Jose allocation money. The team is still short up top, with only Gavin Glinton and Kamara somewhat known commodities.
More than a few observers know them as journeymen, nothing more.
Another player in that category has been signed; left back Eric Denton, who can also play in midfield. The starting lineup thus could be: Cannon in goal; a back four of Hernandez, Garcia, Cochrane and Riley; Guerrero, Grabavoy (or Joe Vide), Corrales and O'Brien in midfield; Glinton and Kamara up top.
That's not bad. In his three previous seasons (2001-03) in San Jose, Yallop forged much of his success on ex-Galaxy players, and he's started on that same route again with Cannon, Kamara, Glinton, and Grabavoy.
"It's a pretty comforting thing to know you've seen Joe Cannon play," says Doyle of Yallop's preference for finding talent within, rather than outside, of the league. "It's not a tryout. You've seen Nick Garcia and Ivan Guerrero. You've seen bits and pieces of Kamara and always thought, 'You know what? He's pretty good.'
"Let's see what Ned Grabavoy does over a season, let's give him a chance. You don't know how it's all going to mesh together, but they're not unknowns."
Doomsayers put the Quakes at the bottom of the Western Conference, citing the track record of the last three startups. Yet in 2005, Real Salt Lake botched its picks and squandered tons of allocation money and Chivas USA tried to build a team on Mexican league reserves.
Last year, Toronto FC traded or dumped all 10 of its expansion picks and went through another 32 players. The Quakes seem way ahead of all three of those teams at this point, even with two roster spots still to be filled. If there's optimism and hope in the Torrance Marriott, there's anything but harmony at Home Depot Center.
The 4-0 shellacking in Colorado isn't being dismissed as a one-off and training sessions were described by one observer as "tense."
In training Wednesday head coach Ruud Gullit sent out a "first" team of field players composed of Alan Gordon and Landon Donovan at forward; rookie Ely Allen and David Beckham as outside mids; rookie Brandon McDonald and Alvaro Pires in the middle of the park; and a back four of Mike Randolph, Greg Vanney, rookie Sean Franklin and Chris Klein. Another rookie defender, Julian Valentin, has been bothered by a foot injury but is listed as probable. Of course, Carlos Ruiz, who had arthroscopic surgery Tuesday and is out four to six weeks, is listed as doubtful. Extremely so.
Gullit has instituted a 4-3-3 formation since taking command - ironically, Yallop envisioned a different 4-3-3 during his Galaxy days that never quite came together - and while it looked effective at times during the team's two trips to Asia it sputtered badly March 15 in Dallas, and defied explanation in Colorado. Particularly poor were left mid Allen and left back Michael Gavin, which shows the wisdom of rolling out a rookie-raw left flank on the road in front of a sellout crowd.
Defender Abel Xavier is suspended due to his red card in Colorado and MLS has tacked on an additional game to his suspension as well as a total fine of $1,600. Troy Roberts came on as a sub late in the Colorado game and would seem to be a more natural replacement in central defense than Franklin, but no lineup has been announced.
Donovan and Beckham will be much fitter and sharper than their jet-lagged legs and altitude-seared lungs allowed them to be last weekend, but breakdowns abounded among the supporting cast members. A repeat performance would be just what the expansion team needs to get off on the right foot in front of a few hundred fans who have made the jaunt down from Northern California, team president Michael Crowley, and operator-investor Lewis Wolff. All the pressure is on the Galaxy to not only win, but dazzle.
"All in all, I'm pleased so far, but we start [Thursday]," said Yallop. "We don't want it all to come crashing down but it's only one game and we know that."
It's Game One of the Reborn Rivalry. Long may it rock.
"It doesn't matter to me where we play, it's that we're playing," says Doyle. "I know San Jose and the Galaxy is a rivalry, and a great tradition, but I'm just happy that we're playing."