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For some teams, injuries affect playoff preparations
by Ridge Mahoney, October 27th, 2010 1:06AM
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TAGS:  mls, new york red bulls, san jose earthquakes

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[MLS] The probable absence of Thierry Henry from the San Jose-New York conference semifinal opener isn't the only injury that could affect the four first-round series. Dallas has been scrambling to get several players healthy, the Crew has lost starting keeper Will Hesmer to a fractured shoulder, and San Jose heads into the playoffs missing four regulars.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said after the Red Bulls’ training session Tuesday that a sprained knee would likely sideline Henry for a third straight match when New York plays Saturday at San Jose, but that the former French international could start in the second leg a week from Thursday.

Thus far in his brief MLS career, Henry has represented more of a threat than a productive presence, though he did net his first league goal in a 2-0 thrashing of the Quakes Aug. 28. In 11 games (859 minutes) he’s scored two goals and contributed three assists; possible replacement Salou Ibrahim has played in more games (19) yet with less playing time (747 minutes) has scored three goals.

Backe can also use former Rapid Mehdi Ballouchy as a de facto second forward underneath Juan Pablo Angel; Ballouchy was traded in September for mercurial attacker Macoumba Kandji, which is a swap the Red Bull brass might end up ruing if Henry is hobbled for more than one game.

One underappreciated facet of San Jose’s season, coverage of which has been dominated by top scorer Chris Wondolowski, is how Coach Frank Yallop and his players have overcome the long-term injury absences of keeper Joe Cannon, rookie defender Ike Opara, and midfielders Andre Luiz and Joey Gjertsen. In their combined total of 50 games played, 47 have been starts. All of them are still sidelined.

Left back and captain Ramiro Corrales (20 games, 18 starts) has returned to the lineup, but might not be sharp enough this week for a duel with Red Bull outside mid Dane Richards. Brandon MacDonald has filled in for both Opara and Andre Luiz while toggling between the positions, and the diligent work of Brad Ring and Sam Cronin have also solidified the central midfield.

“If I show you the injury list we’ve had this year, a lot of guys have to take at least a little bit of the credit,” says Yallop. “They’ve worked so hard and stuck together and kept their heads in it. They’ve done it themselves, it’s nothing I said. Since the start of the season they’ve been saying, ‘We’re sick of losing, let’s go.’”

Since Cannon went down with a fractured ankle suffered in practice, former Crew and Fire goalie Jon Busch has looked solid in most of his games. He’s played 18 games with a 1.06 goals-allowed average and in those games the Quakes are 7-6-5. They will need Busch and his back line to be tough, since San Jose is the lowest-scoring team (34 goals) of the eight playoff qualifiers.

FC Dallas goalie Kevin Hartman returned to training last week, about a month after he suffered a sprained MCL from a celebratory kick by Henry. Hartman sat out the season finale, a 2-1 loss to the Galaxy, last weekend, as did centerback Ugo Ihemelu, captain and midfielder Daniel Hernandez, and forward Milton Rodriguez. FCD lost its last two games of the season yet still tied the league record for fewest losses in a season (four).

“In previous years it certainly wasn’t like this,” says midfielder Dax McCarty, a five-season veteran who himself returned in late September after sitting out two months with a strained quadriceps. “Schellas has guys he can trust. Every guy on the roster has had the chance to prove to him that if we have injuries and suspensions he can come in and do the job.”

Rookies Eric Alexander and Zach Loyd have filled in admirably for Hernandez and Ihemelu, respectively, but both are woefully short on big-game experience. Unlike the Quakes, there has been a steep drop-off in goal. Hartman’s importance can be gleaned from the statistics: in his 20 appearances, FCD has allowed 12 goals (0.62 per game) and is 10-1-8. With Dario Sala in goal, Dallas has conceded 16 goals in 11 games (1.52) and is 2-3-6.

To replace Hesmer, the Crew will use Andy Gruenebaum, who hasn’t played a league match this year but has made 10 appearances in other competitions (Concacaf Champions’ League and U.S. Open Cup). “It definitely helps to have that experience, to have those games under my belt,” Gruenebaum said to mlssoccer.com. “I missed preseason [hip surgery]. It was tough coming back so they were very helpful.

“I feel confident if I have to come in and play. The guys are confident in me. Hopefully I can produce.” Since being picked by Columbus in the 2006 Supplemental Draft he’s played 24 league games – including 10 last year -- but zero in the playoffs.

Chase Harrison has signed a short-term contract to back up Gruenebaum for the playoffs, so it’s unlikely the team will need Eddie Gaven to step into the nets and don the gloves, as he did in the season finale Sunday when Hesmer suffered his injury in a collision with Philadelphia defender Danny Califf.



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