Following a flurry of activity during the offseason, the San Jose Earthquakes stand at the threshold of the annual MLS SuperDraft with one big need left to fill — depth on defense. After losing Bobby Burling to the Montreal Impact in the expansion draft and failing to sign out-of-contract Nana Attakora, the Quakes made a solid move to pick up Honduran International Victor Bernardez to join fellow defenders Jason Hernandez and Ike Opara as options in central defense.
However, with Bernardez slated to feature for his country’s side on occasion during the 2012 regular season and Opara proving to be injury prone, only Hernandez can be expected to be an every game starter for head coach Frank Yallop’s side. Although not a splashy move, picking up another central defender in the MLS SuperDraft would be the sensible choice for an Earthquakes team that proved susceptible to opposing offenses, especially late in games.
Trading Bobby Convey to Sporting Kansas City as also a drain on the Earthquakes defensive core, as despite his reluctance to the assignment, San Jose’s highest paid player was a very effective option at left back. The reliable veteran Ramiro Corrales also held down that spot, but with his lack of covering speed, played more effectively in central midfield. Second year man Justin Morrow, who gained the trust of Yallop as the 2011 season winded down, was an every game starter by season’s end, but depth at left back beyond Morrow is non-existent.
On the right side of the defensive back four, Yallop has found success with Morrow’s draft class companion Steven Beitashour. Not an invitee to the MLS Combine in 2010, the San Jose native was a surprise pick out of San Diego State, but he rewarded the faith of the Earthquakes technical staff with an excellent 2011 campaign. Not just a capable defender, Beitashour also was a strong contributor to the team’s offense with his overlapping runs up the wing and service into the penalty area. Veteran defender Tim Ward provides back-up on the right side for the otherwise reliable Beitashour.
Looking across the defensive line, the Earthquakes clearly need cover centrally and at left back. Available in the MLS SuperDraft to the Earthquakes with their selection at number six are a host of possibilities at those positions of need. On the left is U.S. youth international Tyler Polak out of Creighton, while centrally are both Matt Hedges out of North Carolina and Austin Berry out of Louisville. Both Polak and Hedges are MLS Generation Adidas signings making them more attractive to select because their contracts would not count against the Earthquakes salary cap. Berry would be a safe option, as the Louisville defender is widely considered a safe bet to be a reliable central back in MLS. Judging the three players based on their performances at the recently concluded MLS Combine, the most accomplished player and logical choice at number six would be Hedges.
Practical selection versus best available selection is what it really comes down to for the Earthquakes technical staff on MLS SuperDraft day. Go with a defender, and San Jose will have chosen wisely.