For better or worse, Quakes coach Frank Yallop
is doing something akin to what he tried to do with the Galaxy; i.e., transform a wing midfielder, Bobby Convey
an effective central player.
The same experiment failed miserably with David Beckham
for many reasons, and though the situations are hardly similar, since so different
are the players involved and the situations to which they've been introduced, Convey's return to MLS comes at a critical phase, not the tail end, of his career to a team nearing a crossroads
of its own.
"I played there [in the middle] before when I was younger and with the youth teams," says Convey, who knows Yallop, then an assistant coach, from their time together
at D.C. United. "We have very good wingers already, so I don't have to play out wide, I can play in there with Ramiro
, and Simon
] is a very good player. When I talked to Frank I said that's where I want to play."
Setting aside the tsunami of publicity set off by Beckham's
signing and arrival, not to mention the Galaxy's grim recent legacy of incompetence on and off the field, the fact remains San Jose has shaken up its roster significantly to bring in Convey and is
counting on him, not just the forwards it added during the offseason, to liven up an attack that finished dead last in MLS last year with 32 goals.
Though it hardly broke the bank to sign
him - his base salary of $222,000 is two-thirds of what Darren Huckerby
will earn - San Jose did play hardball in contract negotiations with keeper Joe Cannon
, while upgrading defender Nick Garcia
to a bigger contract ($190,000) and a signing bonus. Cannon took a pay cut, O'Brien stormed off in a
Jettisoning O'Brien opens up opportunities for two younger players, Arturo Alvarez
(23) and Shea Salinas
(22) on the right side of midfield,
and also removes his combative, disruptive personality from the locker room.
Convey, who has never lacked for confidence, envisions San Jose and MLS as the best chance to revive a career
that stagnated because of injuries after the 2006 World Cup. A sensational season in which Convey helped Reading win the English League Championship (second division) and earn promotion to the Premier
League was followed by a series of medical nightmares.
"It was a bit of a difficult situation in England with my knee, it was misdiagnosed," he says of lingering and recurring
injuries that didn't clear up until late last year. "That happens in England, so it was difficult. It's very difficult when people write you off, and say, 'You're injured,
you're injured,' when you know you're not. I just to get on with it."
What the Quakes and Convey must get on with, and soon, is acquiring points. A banged-up New England
Revolution escaped Buck Shaw Stadium last week with a 1-0 win despite creating fewer good scoring chances.
The revamped Quakes midfield is still a work-in-progress, partly due to
Convey's arriving in the USA just three weeks ago and a minor quadriceps injury he suffered in a friendly during his first week of training.
"Bobby's first real game with the
team [was] last weekend and you hate to say it's a little disjointed, but I felt it was," says Yallop." When we got going we were a little more fluid with the ball and I think Bobby
started to pop a little bit more on the ball and try to burst from there when he felt he had cover and could afford to go. He doesn't know the players, he's just learning them. It's a
shame we couldn't have got him in earlier and then he got injured. I think the guys are starting to get to know his strengths and vice versa."
One of those strengths is similar
to that of Huckerby, sudden bursts of acceleration with the ball that rip open the opponent's back line. When one of them sets off, the other can either loop inside or outside to further confuse
the defense, or trail in his wake to receive a ball dropped back, from which he can cross, move closer to goal, hit a square ball to either Corrales or Elliott, find left back Eric
joining the attack, or switch the ball to the opposite flank for whomever is filling that space. The possibilities are endless, if the participants are in sync.
Convey's abilities with those of his midfield partners is going to take some time, according to defender Kelly Gray
, who has played in the middle of midfield as well as at center
"I think all of us are still learning each other, learning how we play and the positions you want to get the ball into," says Gray, who has earned a starting spot with a
strong preseason and an ability to pass the ball as well as win it.
"Preseason was good, but Bobby wasn't around for most of it, so we're still kind of learning how and where
he likes to get the ball. That's just going to come with time."
With four of the next six games at home, and the sting of losing its opener at Buck Shaw still fresh, time is
already a bit pressing with about a dozen former Quakes coming into town representing Houston, coached by Yallop's former assistant, Dominic Kinnear
. The Dynamo didn't win its
home opener either last weekend, tying Columbus, 1-1, after taking a 1-0 lead.
"They want to win and they used to play in this town, most of the guys there, and they want to prove
something and get their season off with a win," says Yallop.
Adds Convey, "There's much to be said for being on the same page: you might not always play your best but if
you're on the same page you're going to win games."